Baseball in Britain Confronts Issues With Sexism

Baseball in Britain Confronts Issues With Sexism


It is no exaggeration to say that Amanda Hocking has dedicated her life to baseball — especially women’s baseball — in Britain. Playing the game has been her dream since she was a child.

That is what made the events of the last few weeks doubly painful to Hocking, and drove her to resign from her position as the general manager of Britain’s national women’s baseball team.

On April 25, Hocking, who goes by Doris, was shocked to see a post on the British Baseball Federation’s Twitter account that she said disgusted her. The post appeared to be a crass attempt by the federation to use a sexualized image of a topless female player to promote the new United Kingdom Women’s Baseball league, which Hocking founded.

The image was a rendering of a female player viewed from behind, wearing a helmet and holding a glove. The player appeared to be either topless or wearing a halter top and just to the left of the image sat the logo of the women’s league, lending the appearance of its approval. Despite requests to have the tweet taken down, it stayed up for hours, with the federation’s president initially defending it.

Within a week, the post led to the resignation of both Gerry Perez, the British Baseball Federation’s former president, as well as Hocking, causing outrage in the small but passionate British baseball community over an issue that mirrors an ongoing problem in the United States.

Major League Baseball has been plagued in recent months by revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct after news reports that executives and coaches for several teams had behaved inappropriately toward women. The incident in England demonstrated that the problem of poor treatment of women is not isolated to American baseball.

“It broke my heart,” Hocking said of her May 4 resignation in a telephone interview from her home in Camelford, Cornwall, in southwestern England. “Ever since I was a kid it has been my dream to play baseball for Britain and to build this league and be taken seriously. And then it was shattered.”

As in the United States, the episode was a catalyst for many to more closely examine attitudes that British baseball holds toward women. But unlike in M.L.B., many in the British baseball community quickly rallied around Hocking and condemned the B.B.F.

Players in Britain do not make a living playing baseball, so there is far less at stake. But many teams issued statements condemning the tweet and the lack of a quick response from the federation. Players threatened to boycott games unless action was taken.

“That was gratifying to see,” said Tracey Wilkes, a British New York Mets fan who lives in Sheffield, England, and co-hosts “Birds with Balls,” a British baseball podcast. “The support for Doris and the women’s game from the male teams has been amazing and I think this regrettable incident has given us an opportunity to learn from it.”

For many, the tweet itself was only the seed of the problem. The lack of contrition from the federation, and its initial decision to defend the image rather than delete it, added fuel to the furor.

Drew Spencer, the head coach of the British men’s team, also oversees the men’s and women’s domestic teams. He was shocked and disappointed by the tweet, he said, and immediately reached out to Hocking to lend support.

“As soon as I saw it, I knew it was going to be a big deal,” said Spencer, a Californian who played center field for Dartmouth College in the 1990s before moving to England. “This has been devastating for Doris. She has literally dedicated her life to British baseball.”

Hocking, 34, was seven years old when her mother bought her a baseball glove. She played with her brother and some friends at the local soccer field, but they did not even know the rules. When she was a teenager she regularly scanned eBay for a pitching machine and when she was about 19 she reached out to the B.B.F. to see if there were any teams or leagues for women.

They pointed her to softball, which did not interest her. She was just beginning to think about starting a women’s national team when she collapsed one day from a severe case of cholesteatoma, a skin growth in the middle ear that reached her brain. Doctors told he she would not live past 27.

“I had accepted that I was going to die,” she said. “I planned my own funeral.”

A new laser technology destroyed the growth and Hocking recovered, although with some balance issues related to the damage to her inner ear. Despite regaining her health, she struggled to cope with the changes in her life until one day she saw an advertisement on social media for a coed baseball league in Cornwall. She joined, and her passion for baseball, and her spirit, were renewed.

“That advert saved my life,” she said. “I had nothing to get up for. Since then, it’s been all baseball.”

Hocking works as a sales assistant for an outdoor clothing company and on a full-time basis attends Plymouth Marjon University, where she studies sports development and coaching. All the while, she has been building the new women’s national team and creating the U.K.’s first women’s domestic league in 80 years, while also playing for a club team in Paris.

She says her interest in the sport was so extreme that it eventually led to the end of her marriage.

“It all became too much for my husband,” she said. “We are still friends and all that, but I’m addicted to baseball. I feel like I was put on the planet to give my services to it.”

But in the amount of time it took to look at a tweet, the game she loved so much seemed to turn on her.

When Hocking first saw the post of the topless woman, she considered it appalling, but felt it would be easily remedied by deleting it. “Everyone makes mistakes,” she said. “You address it and move on.” So she texted Perez and asked him to remove it.

“It’s obvious that the player on the image is topless and is inappropriate,” Hocking wrote in a text she showed to The New York Times, “can you change it or remove it, please. Thanks.”

Perez initially refused, claiming that the woman in the image was not topless. Instead, he wrote back to Hocking claiming the image originally had a uniform but that an editor had smoothed it out “so you can’t see her name.”

The B.B.F. left the post up for roughly 12 hours before deleting it, despite increasingly urgent appeals from Hocking and others. Hocking said she felt Perez’s replies to her were insulting.

Despite several attempts to contact Perez by email and voice message, he did not respond to requests for comment.

As hours passed and the tweet remained, Hocking said, she received several outraged messages from colleagues and members of the women’s international baseball community under the mistaken impression that Hocking had sanctioned the tweet.

“It was damaging to my reputation and to the reputation of the whole league,” she said.

While the post was still up, Wilks, the Mets fan and podcaster, did an internet search and uncovered a stock photo of a woman with bare shoulders that is likely the original image. It appeared to refute the notion that someone had merely erased the name from a uniform jersey.

Wilks’s discovery inflamed the matter and Molly Willcox, a respected British player, announced on May 2 that she would boycott any team affiliated with the B.B.F. until Perez resigned.

“It seems a bit harsh,” she said in a video posted on social media. “But unfortunately, our sport can’t continue to grow or thrive under his presidency.”

On May 7, with pressure mounting, Perez resigned. A few days later, the B.B.F. apologized to Hocking and the entire women’s league. It said it planned to work with Hocking and WB-UK to analyze the “structural failures within the league that led to the unfortunate incident.”

Hocking said that once the situation calmed down, she grew heartened at the outpouring of support she received. She remains focused on the new domestic league but is not yet ready to take back her position as the G.M. of the national team. Spencer said he hopes Hocking reconsiders.

After all, modern women’s baseball in Britain is mostly the result of Hocking’s vision and industry.

“Nobody does anything all by themselves,” Spencer said, “But if Doris doesn’t create WB-UK and become a beacon of hope for women all over the country, it probably wouldn’t exist today.”



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