For a time last week the planet tilted while forces as disparate
as Rush Limbaugh and the National Organization for Women (NOW)
teamed up in search of answers to questions that seemingly had
never arisen in the history of the world. Namely, is there a
jockstrap for girls? And if so, why?
Sports didn't used to be this complicated. You just went out,
ran around and had a good time. But simplicity took another blow
on May 15 when, in the second inning of a Babe Ruth league
playoff game in Boca Raton, Fla., the 12-year-old catcher for
the Monster Hobby Dodgers crouched behind the plate and the
umpire asked, "Are you wearing a cup?"
The catcher, Melissa Raglin, removed her mask and said, "I'm a
girl." As Melissa, a long-haired blonde, later explained, "I
figured maybe he didn't know."
Or maybe he had never gotten to first base and didn't realize
that, for a girl, wearing a boy's jock and cup would be about as
comfortable as wearing an abalone shell for a helmet. You're
just not going to get a good fit. What's more, as a gynecologist
recently told me, a woman could suffer greater injury as a
result of being hit in the pelvic area while wearing a cup than
while not wearing one. Be that as it may, Melissa was yanked
from behind the plate when she refused to put on the
contraption, which Babe Ruth rules require. "I don't blame her,"
says her mother, Pat, who jawed with the umpire from behind the
screen. "Not one woman in the stands would have put that thing
on." Melissa retreated to the bench in tears but later returned
to play in the outfield, where no cup is required. But the
distracted Dodgers lost their opener in the double-elimination
June 1, 1997
The events of the ensuing week affirmed what we already knew
about youth sports: They'd be more fun if certain adults stayed
home. As the Dodgers rallied around Melissa for three straight
wins, there were backstop summits, visits from local league
pooh-bahs and calls to lawyers. Melissa's father, Mike, says
that during one conniption, it seemed as if everyone at the
ballpark was on her or his cell phone, burning out the radar of
passing birds. It was left to Pat to simplify the issue: "She's
not going to wear a boy's cup over a penis she doesn't have."
In 2 1/2 years of catching, Melissa had never been asked by an
umpire if she was wearing a cup. So why now? Harassment, snapped
a NOW official, who wondered how boys might feel if asked to
wear brassieres. They wouldn't like it, I'm guessing. But if
required to wear one, they could use the bra for chesty males
invented by Seinfeld's Kramer. He called it the Bro. What, then,
would you call a jock-with-cup for girls? A jill? It doesn't
matter. In her search for one, Pat came up cupless. "She called
me, and I told her I've played catcher for three years and never
knew of any cup-type product," says Esther Surujon, 30,
president of the South Florida Diamond League, a women's amateur
baseball league. "I would have used one, though. I've been hit
there, and it's not pleasant."
Melissa says she's been hit everywhere, and no one spot stings
more than another. After playing the Dodgers' second playoff
game, on May 17, in the outfield--which she hates because she
likes "being in the middle of the action, in the dirt and
mud"--she cooked up a plan. "The rule says you have to wear a
cup; it doesn't say where," she says. So she stuffed one into
her sock near the flare of her shin guard. A new umpire, one who
doesn't sleep with the rule book under his pillow, just winked
and said, "Play ball!" But league officials who were aware of
her ploy stepped in again, and Melissa was yanked from behind
"Rush Limbaugh took us on as a cause," says Pat. The Raglins
learned that Bike Athletic Co. had developed a padded girdle for
women. James Stewart, the Babe Ruth Southeast regional
commissioner, claims he knew that such products were out there
and that the rule's intent is not for a girl to wear a male cup.
Its intent, Stewart says, is to keep kids from getting hurt, and
he makes no apology there. Neither does Melissa, who vows to
fight for a rule book clarification.
Bike rushed a jillstrap to Melissa overnight. She put it on--"I
guess it feels O.K.," she said--and got to the ballpark in time
to start as catcher last Thursday. The Dodgers sank the Mariners
7-6 to make the tournament semis. Is that a TV ad or what? Come
on, Bike, give the girl an endorsement contract.