A commentator for the Washington Nationals baseball team apologized on Wednesday for using the word “sissy” during a June 5 televised broadcast of a Nationals game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix.
In an interview with the Washington Blade, Ray Knight, a former Major League Baseball player who serves as a commentator accompanying the Nationals’ regular announcer, said he meant no harm to anyone when he used the word. He said he didn’t realize it is sometimes used as a derogatory code word for gay men.
“I never thought one time that that would be a word that would be used to connote that,” he said, adding that he meant it as an expression calling for a baseball player to “come on, toughen up.”
“But absolutely, I get it,” he said. “Now I get it.”
In his comments during the June 5 broadcast, Knight used the term in a discussion about batters being hit by balls thrown by pitchers.
“So you don’t go up there playing the game like a sissy,” he said. “And I’m at the far end of it, I promise you. But I just don’t like all this baloney about the aggressiveness that’s been taken away.”
He was referring to a baseball rule allowing umpires to eject a pitcher from a game if the umpire believes the pitcher intentionally hits a batter with the ball.
Just prior to using the term sissy, Knight told TV viewers that he never likes to see a batter hit or injured by pitched balls. But he said the practice by pitchers of throwing “inside pitches” that come close to hitting a batter is a longstanding tradition in baseball.
Knight serves as the co-host of the Nationals’ pre-game and post-game TV shows. He was a major league player for 13 years for several teams, including the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets and was selected twice as an All-Star player. He served as a coach and manager for the Cincinnati Reds.
His apology came one week before more than 3,000 LGBT baseball fans are expected to turn out for the annual Night Out at the Nationals game on June 21 at Washington Nationals Stadium in D.C.
Brent Minor, an official with Team D.C., the LGBT sports group that organizes the annual Night Out event at Nationals Stadium, said the Nationals have been “very supportive” of the LGBT community and have made Team D.C. and gay Nationals fans feel welcome. He noted that the Nationals had a booth at D.C.’s Capital Pride festival last Sunday and they regularly support other LGBT- and AIDS-related events and causes.
Alexandra Schauffler, a spokesperson for the Nationals, said the team had no comment on Knight’s use of the word “sissy.”
But the Nationals vice president for communications and brand development, Lara Potter, issued a statement to the Blade listing the Nationals’ recent actions in support of various LGBT-related events and causes in D.C., including next week’s Night Out with the Nationals event.
“[T]he Nationals are proud supporters of the LGBT community and have been since the team came back to D.C. in 2005,” she said.
Among other things, Potter noted that the Nationals will show on its video screen during the Night Out game a public service video from the It Gets Better Project, which seeks to curtail LGBT teen suicide.
She did not say whether the Nationals would join the San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs in sponsoring ongoing promotional campaigns for the It Gets Better Project.
Knight’s apology also came after he learned through the Blade that Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national group that advocates against LGBT teen bullying in the nation’s schools, expressed concern over his sissy remark.
“He could have had all the opinions he had and if you take away the sissy part I don’t see it as a problem,” said Byard, who describes herself as a longtime baseball fan.
Byard said the world “sissy” is often used as a code word for gay men or a derogatory term for women, and the term is offensive to both women and LGBT people.
“What Ray Knight did was give us a case study in how sexism and homophobia live in athletics,” she said.
“It has to be called out. It needs dialogue,” she said. “It may surprise Ray Knight to know that there are baseball fans out there that don’t have a problem with pitches that are high and tight but really, really don’t like it when he talks about it in terms that are denigrating to women and gay people.”
After being told of Byard’s concerns, Knight said he regrets using the word during his television commentary.
“I never thought about it that way, never took it in that connotation,” he said. “Certainly, never in a million years would I ever say anything that would offend someone. And if you knew me you would know that.”
Byard was relieved to hear of Knight’s apology.
“I appreciate that Ray took the time to learn about a word that is thrown around carelessly on playgrounds across the country to demean others,” Byard said. “I’m glad to hear that he will no longer use the word now that he understands its origins and impact,” she said.
“Good for him. I hope others will follow his lead and think carefully about the words they use in order to make their points forcefully but respectfully. Disrespect for others has no place in baseball or any other sport. Pitching inside, on the other hand, is still OK.”
Knight said he has followed in the news the issue of anti-LGBT bullying and supports efforts being waged by groups like GLSEN to discourage bullying in schools and elsewhere.
But when told that GLSEN and D.C.’s Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), among other groups, have reported that the term sissy is often used in bullying episodes against LGBT teens, Knight said he was not aware of that.
Michael Solem, the lead organizer of G-Nats, an LGBT Nationals fan club, said he didn’t think Knight’s “sissy” remark was intended to be malicious.
“People can make poor choices of words, especially in live broadcasts,” Solem said. “I think Knight was simply implying baseball players shouldn’t be ‘wimps’ or ‘crybabies’ when it comes to getting hit.”