Mexico’s “Little Devils” Softball Team
The Little Devils have become national sensations for their style of play and their identity as a group of Indigenous women from an ancient community that once discouraged women from participating in sports, which were considered for men only. In December, the Little Devils (or, as they’re known in Spanish, Las Diablillas) celebrated their fourth anniversary as a team.
While they’ve been highly successful on the softball field, their most significant win may have been against machismo and sexism: the team is made up of strong, talented women who have faced discrimination and overcome obstacles that would have stopped other teams. They are a symbol of strength and resilience for Indigenous women everywhere.
Maya women have traditionally been discouraged from participating in sports. Sports have been seen as a man’s domain, and women have been primarily responsible for domestic tasks such as cooking and cleaning. Many Indigenous communities view traditional gender roles as sacred and see any deviation from them as a threat to the community’s stability.
But the women of Las Diablillas are changing all that. These women prove that they are just as capable as men when playing sports. They also show that they are strong and resilient, able to overcome any obstacle that stands in their way. In a sport often seen as a man’s game, The Little Devils have shown that they more than belong. They are changing the sport for women everywhere, proving that everyone can be a champion.
How They Started
Afternoon baseball games in Hondzonot, Mexico, the team’s hometown, started four years ago with the women’s version of the sport. After finishing home tasks, the aim was to get some exercise, and it blossomed from there. Las Diablillas had no equipment, other than a makeshift bat constructed from wood and a tennis ball.
Another women’s team in a nearby town also played the modified baseball game and challenged Las Diablillas to a match. The women of Hondzonot won, received 1,500 pesos (about $75) and uniforms, and were assigned a coach by the local municipality to teach them the rules of softball.
Modernity and Tradition
However, the Hondzonot women were not interested in changing their identity. They continued to play softball as before, barefoot and in their huipiles, traditional Maya dresses they make themselves. This feature quickly turned into the team’s defining characteristic.
“We wear the huipil with a lot of pride, and it is something that represents us as Mayan women,” said Fabiola May Chulim, the team captain and manager of Las Diablillas. “We also aren’t accustomed to wearing shoes, and when we did we just got blisters. Why would we wear something that makes us uncomfortable?”
As the team played more games in their home Mexican state, the Little Devils grew to be a household name. The example set by Las Diablillas has made women on the Yucatán Peninsula — and in Mexico, hopeful about more resources for this sport.
Las Diablillas have company as well, the Yaxunah Amazonas also play shoeless and in traditional attire.
Change in the Community
While these Indigenous women’s softball teams are gaining recognition throughout Mexico and the world (they have even played in stadiums!), they are also making changes in their own communities.
“As we have improved on the field, my life has improved as well,” said Alicia Canul Dzib, who plays second base and pitches for Las Diablillas. “I used to really only leave the house to help my husband with our crops. Now, thanks to softball, I have permission to leave the house, enjoy myself with friends, and visit new towns. It motivates me to keep playing and set an example for my daughter.”
The exercise and comradery of team sports is a huge benefit to these women. But the players also report feeling more empowered and liberated, as well as more respected by the men in their lives.
“When I first started playing, the men in my family said jokes and comments like ‘You’re just wasting your time playing softball,’” said Alvi Yajaira Diaz Poot, who plays several positions for the Amazonas. “Now when I come home from games they are eager to know how the game went and even bring me something to drink.”
Women and Sports Through History
Women’s participation in sports is usually seen as progressive since it is often linked with ideas of women’s liberation. Since the mid-1800s, when women were not encouraged to exercise or engage in many recreational activities outside of their homes, female participation in sports has been seen as an essential step in empowering women and establishing them as equals in society.
However, even though it seems like more and more girls and young women are getting involved in competitive sports and athletics than ever before, the reality is that we still have a long way to go to achieve adequate gender equity in athletics.
Of course, there have been a few women who have defied these norms and achieved great success in the world of sports. Billie Jean King is perhaps the most famous example. She was one of the first professional female tennis players and won 39 Grand Slam titles during her career.
Another notable woman in sports is Jackie Mitchell. Mitchell was the first professional female baseball player, signing a contract with the Chattanooga Lookouts. Mitchell was an incredible athlete and is widely known for striking out Babe Ruth in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees.
Women in Athletics Today
Women have achieved a lot since they began playing sports and fighting the odds. However, there are still many issues with equality in the athletic world today. According to Athlete Assessments, women make up 40% of sportspeople; however, as of 2020, they continue only to receive 4% of the total sports media coverage in print and broadcast devoted to them.
In addition, women are often paid less than men for playing the same sport. Research says that female athletes earn only 63% of their male counterparts. In fact, in the Forbes 2020 top 50 highest-paid athletes, one woman, Naomi Osaka, is sitting at number #29.
One of the chief reasons this happens is that women’s sports continue to receive less exposure than men’s sports. Thus, many young girls are not exposed to female athletes and their accomplishments. This perpetuates the idea that male athletes are better than female athletes, making it harder for young girls to feel like they belong in athletics.
Other problems with the way female sports are presented today include the fact that there are still very few athletic scholarships available for women; most women who play college athletics must pay their way through school (although there has been some progress on this front recently), and they often face discrimination when trying out for teams.
Despite all these challenges, however, there are signs of progress. In 2012, for example, The London Olympic Games featured an equal number of sports for women and men for the first time. This demonstrated that people are beginning to take women’s sports more seriously and that they are willing to support female athletes who achieve great things.
Gracias, Las Diablillas!
What has happened with the Little Devils is nothing short of amazing and inspiring. Las Diablillas team symbolizes hope to many Indigenous women in Mexico and beyond. They have shown that nothing can stop a determined group of women who come together to pursue a common goal. Their victory against machismo and sexism is a triumph for all women.
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