Lance Berkman has presented himself as the latest example of why we really shouldn’t pay attention to athletes for any other reason besides what they accomplish on the field.
The former Astros star (who also played for the Yankees, Cardinals and Rangers in 15 MLB seasons) has become a spokesperson for a campaign opposing the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which would protect Houston residents and visitors from discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace, housing or public places. In doing so, he perpetuates some ugly stereotypes and feeds into misguided fears regarding LGBT people — and transgender women, in particular.
“No men in women’s bathrooms, no boys in girls’ showers or locker rooms,” Berkman says in a radio ad currently playing on Houston airwaves (as transcribed by Outsports’ Cyd Ziegler). “I played professional baseball for 15 years, but my family is more important. My wife and I have four daughters. Proposition 1, the bathroom ordinance, would allow troubled men to enter women’s public bathrooms, showers and locker rooms. This would violate their privacy and put them in harm’s way.”
— Outsports (@outsports) September 25, 2015
You can also watch a TV ad for the Campaign for Houston PAC in which Berkman refers to “troubled men who claim to be women,” the “danger” they present and the “crime” that could be committed here.
As Ziegler points out, Berkman’s use of the phrase “troubled men” to describe transgender women is what’s truly disturbing about this, making the immediate assumption that something is wrong with them. Actually, the word Ziegler uses is “disgusting,” which is entirely fitting. The sentiment Berkman expresses in that ad is ugly, feeding into ignorance, bigotry and hatred toward fellow people. It’s the sort of intolerance that can become dangerous in our society.
Berkman surely thinks he’s being a role model, but he’s being the complete opposite here. Let’s use his own language to describe the example he’s setting: it’s troubling. And it’s terrible that he’s using his celebrity to promote threatening stereotypes and encourage prejudice.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 23, 2015
In a case of very unfortunate timing, the St. Louis Cardinals are holding a Lance Berkman bobblehead promotion before Saturday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Many are calling for the Cardinals to cancel the promotion in light of this development, and there will almost certainly be protests outside Busch Stadium before the ballgame.
Some might argue that the promotion is based on Berkman’s baseball accomplishments and his tenure with the Cardinals, and this controversy should be kept separate. But since Berkman is trading on his reputation and standing as a former major leaguer to encourage intolerance, protesting his stance and the Cardinals celebrating him is completely fair game.
I can imagine that the response from certain people reading this, or seeing links on social media, will be #StickToSports. Hey, Berkman should too.