Spoiler warning for the 2022 A League of Their Own TV series
The original A League of Their Own is a stone cold classic, half a fist pumping crowd pleaser of an underdog story, half nuanced, heartwarming relationship drama between sisters. It is truly great on its own merits. It also always had serious limitations begging for expansion in another time, another place. It was a story about women athletes where the only queerness was just by Rosie O’Donnell’s presence, actively in spite of the direction she was given. A story about segregated baseball that had a single black actress who wasn’t even credited properly.
A League of Their Own (2022) is not a shallow checklist of representation, it’s a story first and foremost, one that finds new depths and ideas in its inclusive choices. It’s a rich text, by queer creators and Black writers approaching their story with honesty and complexity. Here are three ways, from three different directions, that its choices and changes ultimately create a powerful companion piece and a great season of television.
Carson Shaw stepping up when Coach Dove ultimately abandons the Rockford Peaches team is eventually an expression of women’s empowerment, but it first and foremost is a desperate act of survival, clinging onto the single opportunity they have for as long as they possibly can. It’s not “you are all you need to succeed!” but “you can only rely on yourself to succeed.” A response to not only a deeply hostile surrounding world, but specifically an individual abject failure of male authority. Dove’s sexism went beyond a dismissive attitude into actively failing the basic duties of a coach, he mismanaged them and made them worse because he saw them as just a joke, forcing them to pick up his slack and rise to the occasion. Tom Hanks’ coach being won over and really rooting for the girls thirty years ago was its own meaningful, worthwhile story in its own way, but it’s equally worthwhile to have a complementary narrative that bluntly says: sometimes someone isn’t an ally to be won over, sometimes they will simply never value you and fail you even at their own alleged field of expertise.1 They will make your life harder, but they are not insurmountable, especially when you have not only Carson’s leadership but a true team of women uplifting each other. But now that we’ve established solidarity as a more fleshed out central theme of the series, let’s go further.
This series highlighted from its outset a myriad of ways the athletic system rejects and forces conformity onto women even as it provides the opportunity of a lifetime through the American Girls Professional Baseball League. There are no gifts from our entrenched institutions that come without strings. The writers easily could’ve called it a day with showing black women immediately rejected at the same tryouts that white and lighter-skinned women succeeded at. Instead we have much more: the forced, precisely calculated femininity of the uniforms to project a safe, normative nuclear family cishet image, players’ presentation and behavior being carefully policed outside the field too with the wearing pants fine that plagues Jess, among the broader chaperone rules, then there’s Lupe being forced to be the Spanish Striker instead of openly Mexican. But it’s not just about what is done to women, what women do in response matters just as much if not more. There are just as many ways for women to respond in force with solidarity against these conditions without breaking the realism of the setting.
Max isn’t just here to show that not every woman could get into the inaugural American Girls League, despite their talent, and then just give up and go home. She is the co-protagonist of this series, constantly seeking and finding new avenues to keep pursuing her passion while also ultimately embracing herself as a lesbian. Like Carson as coach, she finds the opportunity to empower herself on her own terms as much as possible. Along the way, there are beautiful, different and new forms of women’s solidarity for this ‘franchise’ to explore through that. Clance helps her of course as her lifelong best friend, but there’s also Esther’s gesture to not kick away the ladder she’s already climbed late in the season, and the ultimate series backbone that is the fast, powerful bond and friendship between Max and Carson. The very climax of the season where the entire Rockford Peaches help their beloved friend across the finish line even at the expense of their own victory is wonderfully emotional, and the most League ’92 moment in the whole show…
But it was specifically queer women’s solidarity for each other that the series captures best, most movingly, most complexly. Max and Carson’s friendship as two queer women and aspiring athletes, having each other’s backs on both fronts. And the two different spaces at which mass queer community, queer family, is found and formed to love and protect each other and allow us to simply exist happily for once, if but for just a moment. Those are the true emotional centerpieces here, and they are captured with aplomb.
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