Manny Ramirez, new slugger for the Chicago White Sox, was ordered to cut his hair by Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Ramirez reportedly had around 4 inches cut from his dreadlocked mane, preserving an abundant follical accumulation reaching the middle of his back.
So what’s the big deal? Why is this narrative even playing out before our eyes when we tune in to watch baseball or something about baseball? Why do I bring it up now?
The truth of the matter goes a little deeper than baseballs and appearance codes. Reinsdorf has kept his ball club under a “short hair only” rule for some time now. As an owner of a private organization, he is allowed to make any rules he deems fit for his franchise.
But any successful private firm should understand the rules it establishes need to promote the successful meeting of predetermined objectives. What are the Chicago White Sox’s predetermined objectives? To win the World Series, baby. How does giving Manny Ramirez a Johnny Unitas haircut help win the World Series? I could not tell you.
The liability Ramirez presents to his baseball team’s public image has nothing to do with the dreads. Nor do his flowing locks hinder his playing ability or compromise the safety of any player or referee on the field. True, a leaping Manny Ramirez hair whip to the face during a third-base slide could induce bruising if he ties those big dreadlock beads in his hair, but I did not see any of those Monday.
Nobody would even consider making a professional or college softball player cut her hair short for any reason whatsoever, and no private employer would mandate their female employees cut their hair or keep it long. We would call that discrimination, and I think we would be right.
This notion of discouraging guys to grow their hair long scales the centuries, with the Roman Empire decreeing their male citizens be short-haired and clean-shaven to appear “civilized” and avoid coming across as “barbaric.” In the 1960s, you were not allowed to enter Disneyland if you were both hirsute and male. Mickey Mouse simply did not care to be in your presence.
The cultural implications of associating short hair with civility in men are deeply felt in our nation, most clearly through the process of “Americanizing” Native Americans, an effort made by the government and other groups from the 17th until the 20th century to integrate American Indians into modern European society. This often involved the relocation of Native families or children into reservations or boarding schools and just as often involved cutting their hair. We are more respectful today of social customs different from our own and we strive to grant other cultures a degree of autonomy, yet we hold steadfast to some of our ancestors’ ideas of sophistication.
So, in sharp contrast to the average baseball fan, I applaud Manny Ramirez, though only for his passive aggressive refusal to maim the mane. Pro sports authorities should have bigger issues weighing down their brains than hair. Perhaps we could all compromise on a “no split ends” rule in baseball.