It doesn't take a metrics freak to figure out how the South Bend Silver Hawks vaulted from sub-mediocre to elite status this past season, winning 14 more games and coming within a whisper of the Class A Midwest League's Eastern Division title. They had the same manager. Their pitching staff was led by the same workhorse. The obvious difference? Over the winter, the Hawks repainted the visitors locker room at Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium ... pink.
Specifically, they slapped fifteen gallons of a shade called "Santa's Cheeks" and seven more of "Polka Dot Pink" onto the visitors' walls. Then they threw in two pink couches, patterned in pastel flowers that evoked house wives' capri pants, at a Mad Men-era suburban barbecue. (Don't even ask what the notion of "Santa's Cheeks" evokes.) The newly decorated bathroom? Pink stalls, with doors draped in pink ribbons, flanked by pink flowers in pink vases.
All of this, of course, was designed to psychologically castrate the hitters of the Lansing Lugnuts and sap the masculinity out of the Fort Wayne TinCaps' pitchers. It was a good enough strategy for legendary Iowa football coach Hayden Fry, when he pioneered the visionary pinking ploy in Kinnick Stadium in 1979, right? (Truth be told, the move wasn't a spectacular success for Fry; in his first two pink years, the Hawkeyes went 4-8 at home. But the intent was clear, according to his book Hayden Fry: A High-Porch Picnic: "Pink is often found in girls' bedrooms, and because of that, some consider it a sissy color.") In 2005, despite an on-campus protest, Iowa added more pink to the visitors' locker room as part of an $88 million renovation, with pink shower curtains and urinals in a strikingly subtle "Dusty Rose" shade.
This season, it was Chicago industrial packaging magnate Andrew Berlin, buyer of the foundering Silver Hawks two years ago, who suggested the Coveleski redecoration. (His company, Berlin Packaging, grossed more than $700 million last year and will gladly wrap any items you need wrapped, as long as there are a lot of them, or it's really, really big, or better yet both.) Our man Andrew is clearly a detail-oriented guy. When Berlin took the Hawks' helm, he identified exactly 36 specific ways by which the team could improve its image, attendance and revenue. He swept the corridors with brooms he'd bought at a local hardware store. He made sure the soap dispensers were full. The mascot was sprayed with cotton candy cologne. The most scent-alluring food concessions were located at the front of the stadium. He added a three-story inflatable slide for the kids (that'll be an extra five bucks, son) and built a tiki bar for the adults.
Still, somehow, the Silver Hawks had a lousy first season under Berlin. He obviously needed yet more of an edge -- hence detail No. 37. "Silver Hawks' Guests Are Pretty in Pink," headlined MiLB.com, minor league baseball's official site.
I know, I know. You're already asking, "How come in last month's best-of-five title series, the Quad City River Bandits managed to sweep our Hawks in three, despite the Bandits having to dress not once, but twice, in the emasculated dressing room at Coveleski?" Maybe they were wearing blindfolds. Or maybe they'd been hypnotized.
Or, like me, you might also be asking, "In the year 2013 A.D., what sort of tone-deaf Precambrian-era robber baron would think that `pink-shaming' is anything but laughable at best, and bullying at worst?" That's not my phrase, by the way. "Pink-shaming" is what a non-profit called Gender Justice calls it. Based in St. Paul, Minn., Gender Justice was founded in 2010 by attorneys Jill Gaulding and Lisa Stratton. Gaudling led that 2005 protest, as a law instructor at Iowa at the time and a big Hawkeye fan. She was spurred on to found Gender Justice by the more than 1,000 emails she received in the wake of her protest, ranging from the obscene to the dismayingly predictable. ("I think you should immediately quit your job with the school. Go home, cook your man dinner, wash and iron his clothes, do the dishes, sweep the floor, vacuum the house and do the rest of the things women should do. Obviously, you make a lousy spokeswoman, if there is such a thing as spokes-'women.'")
Both recently made it clear to me that in trying (as their Facebook page explains) to "eliminate gender barriers of every kind," the suggestion of litigation is hardly their preferred method of heightening institutional awareness. "It should simply be understood," Gaulding said, "as being illegal to build a gender slur into a physical building ... and it is a gender slur. It's meant to say, 'Don't be like a girl. Don't play like a girl.'"
The group's effectiveness to date? Start with the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center's renovation five years ago, when Minnesota-Duluth hockey wanted to go Visitor Pink. Gaulding paid a visit. The scheme quietly disappeared.
It got a little weirder in Bondurant, Iowa, in early 2012, when Hawkeye fans Brian and Mary Lohse collected a Powerball payoff of $90.9 million after taxes. At the time, a new football stadium for the Bondurant-Farrar High School Blue Jays was already in the planning stages. The Lohses, whose son was a sophomore on the team, pledged three million dollars to ensure its completion. And while you're at it, the Lohses asked, could you paint the visitors' locker room pink? According to the Des Moines Register, in a piece entitled "Blue Jays think pink with $3M gift for stadium," the school agreed to the request.
As if the rival Interstate 35 High School Roadrunners didn't have enough to worry about, after the Jays stomped them 54-0 last month. In the new place, with the Roadrunners having to deal with their feminine side, think 104-0, right? Well, no. Gaulding and Stratton visited the school. The packed-room discussion was ... lively. Ensuing private meetings with students and teachers were more than civil.
"We just said it was a significant issue," Gaulding says now, "and something they should reconsider. We wanted to make them aware of problems they might not have thought about." A month later, at Iowa's eighth Annual Governor's Conference on LGBTQ Youth, Gaulding spoke of how such a strategy could leave the school open to lawsuits, pursuant to Titles IX and VII.
Gaulding tells me that she's been informed by "people on the [school] staff that Bondurant-Farrar has now decided not to proceed with the pink." When I emailed Peggy Vint, supervisor for the Bondurant-Farrar School District, she answered, a tad tersely, "There is no plan to build locker rooms." I replied, "No locker rooms, or no pink locker rooms?" Her reply: "No plan to build locker rooms."
Maybe they'll dress in the new parking lot, with the tarmac painted pink.
Next on Gender Justice's radar? Well, Andrew Berlin might soon expect a call, and not about industrial-strength packaging. But as for Lisa Stratton, there remain issues a little closer to home. Last fall, her 12-year-old son told her that his soccer coach -- a 21-year-old college soccer player -- chastised his team thusly: "You guys are playing like a bunch of girls."
No doubt, he was referring to the U.S. soccer gold medalists of the 2012 Olympics.