Opinion: The Blue Jays need to answer more for Callaway

Mar 5 2021, 9:30 am

Monday, March 8 is International Women’s Day. February 3 was National Girls and Women in Sports Day. On both days, teams across all professional sports post carefully curated social media posts proclaiming their support for women in sports.

It always seems edged with insincerity, but as I think ahead to Monday and whatever the Toronto Blue Jays release to celebrate IWD, I feel even more cynicism.

Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Britt Ghiroli and Katie Sprang released a damning follow up report about former Cleveland pitching coach and Mets Manager Mickey Callaway — currently on suspension from his role as pitching coach with the Angels after charges of harassment of women reporters were first revealed in early February.

Callaway rose through the ranks of baseball during his time with Cleveland, hired by current Toronto GM Ross Atkins while Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro was in charge.

According to The Athletic article, Callaway’s lewd behaviour was known as early as when he was working in the minors, and continued unabated through his rise at Cleveland, when he managed the Mets and up until he was suspended by the Angels.

His time with Shapiro and Atkins in Cleveland overlapped for five years. Atkins vouched for Callaway in the past, and went as far to rave about him when he was hired by the Mets.

And yet, Callaway’s inappropriate treatment of women was described as the “worst-kept secret in baseball.”

This week, Shapiro and Atkins met with the media, and both insisted they didn’t know what Callaway was doing during their tenure with Cleveland, but admitted to general “failures” while vowing to do better.

It’s incredible that somehow the only people unaware of the worst-kept secret in baseball were the very people responsible for hiring and promoting Callaway. It’s amazing how that always seems to work.

For now, it seems the matter with regards to Shapiro and Atkins’ responsibility is considered closed in the eyes of media and Jays fans. Their statements were accepted on their face and now it’s time to move on.

I’m not quite ready to consider this done and dusted.

No, these are the questions I would have asked Shapiro and Atkins had I been given the chance:

  • How did you not know what was happening under your nose? If this was the worst-kept secret in baseball, how was it somehow kept from both of you — and for years. How did you not know?
  • And if you truly didn’t know, isn’t that an abject failure of leadership? And so — how can we now be expected to trust your judgment when it comes to the character of your hires?
  • How can you be entrusted with the responsibility of creating a safe work environment?
  • What concrete plans do you have in place that can be followed up on in a year to determine if there’s been genuine progress?

Instead, we get to listen their statements undoubtedly worked on with PR people where apologies are made — but to nobody, because remember; they somehow didn’t know what Callaway was doing — and claims about “doing better,” knowing how unlikely it is that there will be any real follow-up on how they’ve made things better.

And by next week, it will already be forgotten, as people turn their attention back to Spring Training and wondering who will make the big league roster at the end of the month.

And we won’t talk about it again until the next creep gets revealed, and women once again have to reveal their pain to try and make a systemic and institutional change to MLB that never seems to come.

And the message this sends to women who are considering a career in baseball? We already know it — we’ve been hearing it our whole lives. That our ability to perform our job safely, free from harassment doesn’t matter as much as a man’s career. That as long as he’s considered ‘too valuable to lose’ — we won’t be.

Every time a powerful man’s inappropriate behaviour is revealed, people cry out: “This is his career we’re talking about. We can’t rush to judgment!”

As though the women’s careers he ruined don’t matter as much as his. So yes, we’ve already heard the message loud and clear. We know it far too well. What we’ll never know is how many women have been driven out of baseball because they’ve been told over and over and over how little they matter.

I worry much more about the message this sends to men.

That you can behave abominably and you may only face consequences if it becomes public enough.

That you can be in a leadership role where your employees have seemingly free reign to harass women and at worst, you might have to deal with a couple of uncomfortable press conferences.

We talk a lot about hiring more women and NB people in the higher level of sports. Beside it being lip service, it once again puts the responsibility on women to police the behaviour of men.

The solution is not hiring more women, although parity is necessary and long overdue. The solution is making men responsible for their actions. It is making leaders truly accountable when they fail to create a safe working environment. The solution is consequences.

The theme for this year’s IWD is #ChooseToChallenge gender bias and inequality. So this is my plea.

I challenge people working in baseball to speak up when you see a colleague behaving inappropriately.

I challenge people working in baseball to stop letting abhorrent behaviour be a ‘secret,’ no matter how poorly kept.

I challenge leaders in baseball to stop making it the responsibility of victims to try and make change.

I challenge the media to keep on the Jays front office and make them demonstrate what they’ve done to create a safer, more inclusive workplace free from harassment and retaliation.

The time is long past due for those in leadership to be held accountable for what happens on their watch. It doesn’t appear that Shapiro and Atkins will be for what Callaway did during their time with Cleveland. We can’t let this happen again.

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