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SIU's Sewell Sounds Off On Bat Flips, Celebrations And More

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(Photo Courtesy of SIU Athletics)

Oklahoma State’s Samantha Show is at it again. She launched her bat into orbit with a moonshot homer at Oregon and she went viral for it. Major League Baseball tweeted out the video and she received feedback both good and bad.

This past weekend against Texas Tech, Show did it again. She tied OK State’s single-season home run record with her 15th and stirred the pot with her celebration.

Southern Illinois’ Associate Head Coach Jen Sewell has been very vocal and supportive of Show an d others who have celebrated home runs. Softball America reached out to Sewell and here is what she had to say.

I think it was the perfect moment when Show flipped her bat in the way that she did it. In that moment, she probably thinks, “I just got all of that,” and then she walks for a minute and then she takes off running again. When she flips it, you can tell that she’s done it before.

It stirs up a key discussion and an important conversation about where we’re at right now. I think people want to have a surface-level conversation sometimes and they just want to voice their opinion. It’s more than is she disrespecting the game? Is it something that we want in our game? I think it’s deeper than that. We have to pay attention to what we are saying, especially for women who do something like that, in a situation where they are really excited about their physical capabilities and they crush the ball.

A major league baseball player who does that would probably crush the ball the same way and would probably take a few steps himself and flip the bat. I think sometimes people want to avoid the deepest part of that conversation and those are things like gender.

But, we have to have that conversation. I saw some comments like, “Why did you have to bring gender into it when it has nothing to do with it?” Actually, you can’t have the conversation if you take gender out of it and until we have the right conversation about bat flipping or home run celebrations.

We can flush out the behaviors and sometimes try to shape the behavior of the female athlete. We want to box her in and bottle her up a little, make her more ladylike sometimes.

In a sense, we’re not that old as a sport and we are officially a revenue sport. We have a product for people and an opportunity to share that product even more. We have to be careful in capping it in a way that makes it seem more picture perfect.

We are talking about Samantha’s Show athleticism. We aren’t talking about what her hair looked like or how did her uniform fit? We are talking about her physical ability to crush the ball. I think that’s a much different conversation than what we were having 10 years ago.

Mississippi State haka’s when they hit home runs. Fa Leilua hit one where she actually waved to the ball against us. I loved competing against them. They have a swagger about them and I really enjoyed facing the top hitters in that lineup and it didn’t feel disrespectful to me. It felt like a fun, exciting environment and we were all showing off what we can do.

We’re still working on things like our aggression, competitiveness. Can we show confidence, strength and dominance? She dominated that ball. I think some of the comments are more knee-jerk reactions to the actual bat flip when we can talk about it a little more in depth.

Take Sophie Cunningham from Missouri women’s basketball. She has been thrown out there as a dirty player. People say she plays dirty. She turns to the opponents bench and says some words. She’s been labeled as over-aggressive and dirty.

It got me thinking, this is kind of the same discussion. It’s about controlling exciting behavior at times for female athletes. Maybe we need to be more aggressive. Maybe, it’s good for the sport. I know for a fact that there are NCAA men’s players or professional men’s players who do the exact same thing and are not labeled as dirty. They have different descriptors; they are aggressive, they are physical, they are athletic. They don’t get the word dirty or overdone. They don’t get the negative reaction.

I think this is the opportunity to have a bigger discussion. There are some coaches who don’t want it in their program. It’s just not for them but for me, I enjoyed how she just crushed it and it was just like a natural reaction for her. She didn’t have to stop and think should I do it or should I not? It just looks natural.

The best part of the reactions have been from pitchers. There was a time in our sport where we got dominated by the mound. We are just now catching up on the offensive side to pitchers who used to throw these 1-0 shutouts, no-no’s, one or two-hitters. Now, we’re catching up where there’s a lot of offense in the game and that’s what you want. You want pitchers who are willing to get hyped and figure out a way to get you, as a hitter, who come back in their later at-bats and get them out. That’s the product that fans are going to love.

Baseball is in a different spot right now where it is new school vs old school. It doesn’t have the gender component. They are trying to figure out how to put the best product out there too because they need more scoring and they need more fans.

We are still very much on the forefront of this sport. We are still introducing it in a way. I think we have a big opportunity for fans. When we were at the resort in Mexico (Puerto Vallarta College Challenge), I overheard a conversation where people were talking about going to watch the games. They were talking about how great the athletes were and people stopped their vacations to go over and watch the games.

I just get nervous when the conversation starts to have that nuance of, “She can play and she can hit home runs and she can strike people out but we just don’t want to see the celebration aspect of it.”

As a society, we’re not that far removed of telling women what to do and when they can do it and how to do it. I want to be careful with the language that surrounds it.

For so long we have played a much quieter, cleaner game and now, in a sense, we can own the physicality of the sport. We joke around but there are some umpires who say, “Don’t touch each other, don’t run into each other, we’ve got rules and we don’t want contact.”

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Let’s keep moving the sport forward. We don’t have to be dangerous or irresponsible but let’s try to just keep moving the sport forward. I want to see it continue to be exciting and I don’t want to go backwards. I don’t want to hold it back, I think we’ve already done enough of that historically.

The home-run cycle from Danielle Gibson, that was another discussion. You have the camp that says, “This is amazing.” then you have the other camp that says, “Well that’s just softball. If it was baseball, she wouldn’t have been able to do that.”

You’re always going to have the nay sayers but the one thing that I always want to be careful of is that we’re not hurting ourselves or having a discussion that hurts us.

In the past three to five years, we have really pushed our hitters to get behind the ball instead of getting on top of it and hoping for the best. It’s hard for me to say let’s hit the ball hard and hit it deep and then say it has to stop there, you can’t have what happens next. It’s their choice in how far they want to go but I think not celebrating is capping the excitement of it all.

As women, let’s not decide what the limit is right now. Let’s just keep pushing. We haven’t found our limit yet.

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