Why I’m not laughing at the Jays manager’s sexist joke

John Gibbons says his wife and daughter weren’t offended by his attempt at humour. But that doesn’t make it OK.

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Photo, Orlin Wagner, Associated Press.

This piece was originally published on Sportsnet.

One of the remarks John Gibbons made in his post-game presser after the Blue Jays lost a controversial game to the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday night was this: “Maybe we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everyone is looking for.”

Gibbons was frustrated by MLB’s new slide rule, which very likely cost the Blue Jays a win that would have given them a 3-0 record to start the season for the first time since 1996. He was frustrated enough to call the rule a joke and an embarrassment to the hard-nosed game of baseball; he felt it had no place in a serious, major-league game where every win matters so much.

I like John Gibbons. A lot. He seems real and smart and laid back and funny. He seems nice. He’s a bit of an underdog, not showy, content with who he is. I like the way he takes things in stride, making jokes about job openings in double-A ball if things fall through with the Jays. I also like that he’s got fire, that he was as frustrated as he was last night by that loss. I like that he said what he thought.

But I don’t like everything he said. I don’t like the dresses comment. I do think it’s sexist. I would say it’s on the mild end of the continuum, and I don’t think that counts for nothing. But a sexist comment, no matter how mild, is a problem. It adds that much more bulk to an already big-enough barrier that interferes with our seeing men and women as equally important and valuable. Little jokes about men being “ladies” when they don’t train hard, or rookies having to wear pink knapsacks — they are meant to be fun but they stand for derision; they are small on their own but pile up and up and, ultimately contribute to a critical mass.

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On Wednesday, in response to the backlash against his comments, Gibbons said he doesn’t understand what the fuss is about, why people are offended by his remarks. His mother and his wife and his daughter don’t have a problem with them. “[They] found it kind of funny and they know me,” he said.

I don’t know him. But I think I know what he means. I don’t actually think John Gibbons sees women as less important or valuable than men. I don’t think he, in any way, said what he said to make things harder for women. I suspect that may be the last thing he wants. That’s a gut feeling, and the only thing it means in this case is that the sexist remark he made yesterday will not get in the way of me being his fan — I will continue to like him and pull for him. But neither does his absence of ill intent make the comment OK. The thing with these comments is that that they take on a life of their own. They build that barrier up like so many bricks.

I’m not surprised by Gibbons’s comment and I’m not surprised he’s not sorry for it. I’m a little bit sadder and more disappointed hearing it from him than I have been from others and I’m sure I’ve worked harder to understand and reconcile it coming from him than I have from most. But even when I look at things from his side, and even though I still want him to make his jokes and be himself and stay the manager of the Jays for the duration of this season as well as the foreseeable future, I just don’t like that comment. In the end, it’s another brick in the wall.

Dafna Izenberg is a senior editor at Sportsnet.

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