Roxanne Jones: Ballplayer called Mo'ne Davis slut in a tweet. She graciously asked his college to reinstate him after he was kicked from team
Jones: Black girls conditioned from young age by culture and even family to accept being called over-sexualized names
She says it's hurtful, confusing, can have long-term effect. Community should recognize the harm this does to young, smart, strong girls
Editor’s Note: Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has worked as a producer and as a reporter at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She was named a 2010 Woman of the Year by Women in Sports and Events. Jones is a co-author of “Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete” and CEO of the Push Marketing Group. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Warning: This article contains offensive language.
Slut, ho, hussy, heifer, bitch – long before I ever heard those words flow in a rap song, I heard them first in my own home, my own neighborhood. And too many times, they were directed toward me or one of my grade-school girlfriends.
You see, for generations, black girls have been so conditioned to being called these over-sexualized names – first by our slave masters, then our mothers, sisters, friends and eventually the world – that today many times we don’t even take offense.
We deny our pain or hurt feelings. We even make excuses for the name-callers because it’s difficult to decipher, especially for young girls, when the offender means it in a tough love, sisterly kind of way or a “he didn’t mean it in that kind of way,” as Little League standout Mo’ne Davis said on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Monday. She was explaining why she had forgiven Bloomsburg University baseball player Joey Casselberry recently. Davis emailed the university to ask for Casselberry to be reinstated.
Here’s what he had tweeted after hearing that Disney plans to produce a movie based on Davis’ life titled: “Throw Like Mo”:
“WHAT A JOKE. That slut got rocked by Nevada.”
Ugly, jealous, hateful words meant to intimidate and objectify a 13-year-old girl. But Davis was quick to respond with a class beyond her years: “Everyone makes mistakes and everyone deserves a second chance,” she told ESPN. “… I know right now he’s really hurt and I know how hard he worked to get where he is. I mean, I was pretty hurt on my part but I know he’s hurting even more,” said Davis, the first girl in Little League World Series history to earn a win and pitch a shutout.
Bloomsburg immediately kicked Casselberry off the team but now says it will review the matter. I hope the school sticks to its decision. It was the right call and the university’s action spoke volumes about its integrity – and how it values women and girls.
Surely, Bloomsburg University believes that sports are meant to teach more than simply how to hit, catch and run. We talk about using sports to build character, leadership and respect for others. Casselberry seems to have missed those lessons, or maybe he just thinks they don’t apply to women.
His promising college baseball career doesn’t have to end over this mistake. Let the school review the situation next season; see then if Casselberry has had time to truly understand his actions.
Good for Davis, for rising above the hateful remark — and also above the outrage on social media, where millions rose to her defense — to offer such a gracious response. But it should go without saying: It’s never OK or excusable to attack a successful 13-year-old girl with such a chauvinist remark. Neither little girls, no matter their ethnicity, nor grown women are open targets for sexist, ignorant public attacks.
The incident provides a good opportunity, however, for we in the black community to consider how we value our daughters. And we must take note that our sons are watching closely as they try to navigate what it means to respect a young woman today. Men who grow up to disrespect women do not only learn those lessons by watching TV or playing video games. And though it may be convenient to blame pop culture, rap music is not responsible for teaching men to disrespect women.
We parents own much of the blame. Overworked, frustrated mothers and fathers often cannot find the words or the courage to have a conversation about sex with their children who are not even teens yet. But that’s when the questions start for most kids.
Just about every day in my old neighborhood, a playmate would get called out of her name for violating an unspoken rule about how a 9-year-old girl should behave: “Get your trifflin’ ass in the house, you little hussy. Why are you dressed like a little slut?” an angry mom would yell down the street. Every little girl I knew heard that rant, including myself. And as kids do, it wasn’t long before we were all giggling and calling one another those very same names.
I don’t really know how other mothers talk to their young daughters, or at least I didn’t back then, but in my black neighborhood, often the conversation between mothers and daughters was not pretty. You had two choices: develop a tough skin or believe the ugly words and let your innocence be destroyed by their cruelty, even if unintended.
Too many of my friends were destroyed as they struggled with the confusing messages and lack of forthright explanation and support on sexuality. It led to young teenage pregnancies, abusive boyfriends and destructive behavior.
Who knows what those beautiful girls, once so full of ambition and curiosity about the world, would have become if they’d been called: beautiful, strong and smart.
Maybe they would have been just like Mo’.