Professional sports, they say, is one of the last places where a man can be a man.
Spitting, cursing, grabbing, pushing, shoving, brawling, off-color jokes, lewd gestures. The locker rooom, the sideline, the dugout is one of the few places left where decorum and political correctness can be damned. It's a man's world.
Just ask Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez, who was appalled to find a woman present in the San Diego Padres dugout several weeks ago.
She wasn't a groupie. I am proud to say she is Cleveland's own Kelly Calabrese, and she was doing her job as a member of the Padres's training staff. Not that it mattered to Hernandez, who apparently believed an unwritten rule among baseball teams had been broken. He believes women just shouldn't be allowed in the macho environment of the dugout, and proceeded to tell thousands of viewers the same.
I can't fault Hernandez for having an opinion. But having an opinion is one thing. Saying it over airwaves is another.
Hernandez and those who share his opinion seem to think Calabrese has broached the boys' club that is a major league dugout, that in the name of equal opportunity, the places in this world that are exclusively male are being swallowed up by an ever-advancing army of political correctness.
The implication is that it's another women's lib issue, like when some NBA players put up a stink about referee Violet Palmer, one of two female refs to break that gender barrier in the '90s. Or when Martha Burk set up shop at the gates to Augusta National during the Masters a few years back.
The truth is far more basic, however. Calabrese isn't at the front lines of a gender-equality war. She didn't sign on for that. She is simply a massage therapist and trainer who capitalized on the opportunity of a lifetime, as any of us would do.
She gave up her private practice in Cleveland a number of years ago to sign on with the Padres. She so impressed the Padres' head trainer that she was hired on full-time in 2003. Nobody made a public stink about it for almost three years. Then Hernandez had to open up his trap. His public embarrassment of Calabrese underscores the fact that, while she's not fighting a war, she is definitely a pioneer, and subject to all the slings and arrows of an outsider.
Calabrese has a prestigious job with a Major League Baseball team. But with that comes having to adjust to working in a place where her mere presence could cause stifling awkwardness, or an outright bad situation: her place of work is a male locker room.
It is Calabrese that has had to adjust to the baseball environment, not the other way around. I'm sure the Padres aren't making massive concessions for their female presence. If Calabrese wanted this job badly enough, she'd have to find a way to live with the ballplayers heading to and from the showers, laundry bins filled with dirty underwear and dugout floor coated with who knows what.
Somehow, she has not only made it work, she has flourished. Over the years, her skill and attitude have won over legions of macho baseball players, to the point that when Hernandez made his comments, Calabrese reportedly received a number of supportive phone calls from ballplayers.
In San Diego, she not only works. She belongs. She has done what few women have ever been able to do: find a niche in the trenchwork of professional sports.
That accomplishment, however, is apparently lost on Hernandez.
Here is an excellent article on Calabrese from ESPN.com