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 tournament.
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� 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 the plate.
" Rush Limbaugh took us on as a cause," says Pat. The Raglins learned that Hike 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.