“The Blue Jays didn’t stand up for us”: The president of a queer softball league on Anthony Bass’s anti-LGBTQ statement
Long-time Jays fan Shosh Cooper on the team’s tepid reaction to Bass’s homophobic comments, boycotting upcoming Pride games and whether baseball is the gayest sport of all
Unfortunately for fans and players alike, the Toronto Blue Jays learned nothing from last year’s reboot of A League of Their Own. In an Instagram story last week, pitcher Anthony Bass encouraged viewers to boycott Target and Bud Light due to their recent pro-LGBTQ campaigns. While he apologized in a 33-second statement the next day, his social media post continues to draw intense backlash. As for the Jays themselves, they released a statement saying that Bass’s views do not reflect the team’s but that he will not face any further disciplinary action. While baseball, and organized sports in general, has a long history of bigotry, some LGBTQ people have opted to participate on their own turf. Shosh Cooper is the current president of the Notso Amazon Softball League, a queer league that is now in its 40th year. We spoke with her about the Jays’ reaction to Bass’s comments, how Major League Baseball should be spending its money and whether softball is the queerest sport of all.
You’re a lifelong baseball fan. That usually includes loyalty to a particular team. Who do you root for?
I’m from Los Angeles originally, so my first love was the Dodgers. But my grandfather is from Toronto, and in 1993, when the Blue Jays won the World Series, he brought me a Jays World Series T-shirt that had all the Looney Tunes on it. From that day forward, I became a Jays fan too.
Do you have a favourite team?
They’re absolutely equal. Thankfully, one is National League and the other is American League, so there’s a low probability that they’ll ever face each other in the World Series.
Players on both your teams of choice made headlines recently for publicly objecting to Pride-related campaigns. Major League Baseball is having an unflattering moment, to say the least. How did you feel when you heard about Bass’s post?
My initial reaction was a mixture of disgust, rage and deep exhaustion. My second reaction was to call him a part of the human anatomy that I won’t repeat here—but it wasn’t a nice one.
Does all this come as a surprise to you?
The first time I remember witnessing in-your-face homophobia in baseball was in 2012, when Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended for wearing eye tape with a homophobic slur written on it in Spanish. It caused an uproar because it was so blatant, but it’s a manifestation of an illness that’s pervasive. I think it’s related to the sport world’s general disgust with femininity—it gets associated with weakness. So it’s not surprising to me that we’re seeing homophobia rear its ugly head again. I’ve been really disappointed by both the Dodgers’ and the Jays’ responses. The Jays’ statement was not enough, and I don’t see MLB taking steps as an organization to mitigate homophobia and transphobia in its ranks.
What’s lacking about the league’s response?
It’s just tepid. It’s not useful to us. The Blue Jays are happy to slap a Pride flag on the back of their jerseys and say, Come and give us your money. Pride nights are a step in the right direction—they show people that the queer community likes having hot dogs and watching the game as much as anyone else. But then we see that leagues don’t stand up for us when we need it. We need them to say that this is unequivocally unacceptable and that they’ll take tangible steps to make sure it never happens again. It’s not enough to wave a flag once a year and call it a day. We need more aggressive allyship.
What should they have done?
The absolute bare minimum would be a swift and strong condemnation of Bass’s actions followed by a commitment to make amends in tangible ways. What those steps are exactly, I’ll leave to those from our community who are more well versed in these scenarios—there are plenty of people who could consult on that. I also would have liked an actual apology from Anthony Bass that acknowledged how disgusting his post was. The one he gave sounded like he’d put a prompt into ChatGPT. Benching him or releasing him would have been wholeheartedly welcomed too.
It seems like Jays fans are in your corner. Bass recently got heartily booed on the field.
It’s wonderful to see the city stand beside us. In that moment, I felt our community was supported by the wider Jays fan base.
As for MLB, what would it take to address homophobia in the league?
The best answer I have for you is: everything. They have more money than God. They should put that toward hiring queer people to instruct them on how to rid sports of this evil. If an organization isn’t doing everything in its means to weed out homophobia and transphobia, it’s clear that its only goal is making money.
Will you be attending the Jays’ Pride night this weekend?
Usually, the softball league I’m part of attends every year. But, because the response to Bass’s actions was so lacking, we won’t be going this time. It was a difficult decision that the collective I work with came to together. We asked for a refund, which was given to us, and we’ll be finding alternative programming.
Right, because in addition to being a fan and player, you’re the president of the Notso Amazon softball league. Can you tell me a bit about it?
It’s an entirely queer league made up of women, trans men and non-binary players. It’s not for cisgender men or heterosexual folks—there are plenty of other leagues to accommodate people who identify in those ways. Today, I’m the president—we take a vote for the position each year—so I’m responsible for making sure the season runs smoothly.
For the uninitiated, what sets a queer softball league apart from a typical one?
It’s a safe space. Lots of our members have played in traditional leagues and felt like outsiders. In some cases, they were actively shunned. You’d be hard pressed to find a queer person alive today who hasn’t experienced some form of homophobia. I’m queer, Black and Jewish, plus I’m a woman—I’ve heard everything. So ensuring that our players don’t have to worry about any of that bigotry or exclusion is paramount to us. We want people to just experience the joy of the game.
I imagine that, in a queer league, there’s an extra layer of campiness involved.
Absolutely. One of my favourite players regularly wears sequinned disco shorts. I’ve also seen people sew tulle tutus to their shirts.
Despite the enduring homophobia and transphobia, baseball and softball do have a reputation as queer sports. What do you think draws LGBTQ people to the game?
I think both have a historical association with the sapphic community. I mean, come on, A League of Their Own? At this point, the sport is part of the fabric of queer society. I don’t know, there’s just something about it. Sports and queers go together like peanut butter and jelly. I can’t speak for all queer people, but I know that I love the crack of the bat. I love catching the ball. I love getting out and celebrating with my team.
Would you go so far as to say that baseball is the gayest sport?
If I say that, the soccer people will absolutely come for me. But I will say that, in the pantheon of sports, softball and baseball are pretty darn queer.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.