It started out with a kiss; how did it end up like this?
That’s a lyric from the popular song Mr. Brightside by The Killers. And it’s the first thing that comes to mind as I survey what has become of baseball’s attempts at inclusion through Pride Night events hosted by various teams. Obviously, things did not literally start with a kiss, but based on where they did start, it feels insane that this is where we ended up.
First, some history
The age-old cry of, “Why isn’t there a straight pride night?” is often asked but rarely answered. Not because there isn’t a good answer, of course, but because the answer is so blindingly obvious that almost everyone who asks it has chosen to ignore it. But, for the sake of completeness, I’ll answer it. As recently as 40 years ago, homosexual people were discriminated against in this country on an institutional level. Transgender people are still being discriminated against on an institutional level. No one has ever been discriminated against at such a level for being cisgender or straight. A single individual sneering at you because you are one or both of those things is not the same. Individuals can be ignored; institutions that govern our daily lives cannot. Pride parades, nights, months, and other events came into being as a way to first resist that institutional bigotry as a sort of peaceful protest and then to celebrate that some steps had been made toward equality.
It was never about queer people being better than straight people. It was about queer people refusing to hide.
If and when there is true equality between queer people and non-queer people - as in queer people don’t have to fear the government taking away things like their right to marry who they want or to get life-saving care (setting aside life-affirming care for the moment) - I expect the idea of pride nights and other such expressions will fade. We aren’t there yet.
The problem is that corporations - including baseball teams - have realized there is profit opportunity in pretending to care about queer people. Some teams resisted the profit motives for longer than others, but by now, every team is hosting a Pride Night promotion to sell more tickets in the same way that they’ll offer discounts on hot dogs or hand out bobbleheads. For a while, this was a bit crass to people who paid attention to the blatant profit-mindedness of it all, but at least maybe it was helping to bring the idea of queer people existing and being worth celebrating as much as any other human into the cultural standard. If even conservative baseball teams thought gay people were OK, then maybe it meant society was improving! Even it was at a glacial pace!
Enter the 2022 Tampa Bay Rays
On June 4, the Tampa Bay Rays held their Pride Night promotion. Part of this promotion included wearing uniforms with modified logos. Traditionally, the Rays cap logo is a white TB with simple, gold starburst shoulder patches. For the promotion, the Rays promised to wear variations on both logos with rainbow colors, a pattern long that has long symbolized the diversity of LGBTQIA+ people. As far as that goes, that’s fine. It’s still blatant commercialism, but rainbows are known for being kinda pretty, and uniform variants can be pretty fun even when they’re awful. These didn’t even look half bad!
Unfortunately, things were badly derailed from there. Five of the Tampa Bay pitchers - nearly a fifth of the team’s roster - decided they weren’t going to wear these rainbow-adorned uniforms and wore their standard variations instead. You may say, “Well, that’s their choice!” To that, I say, “No, it’s not. Uniform is dictated by the team.” We’ve seen plenty of examples of players being fined for not wearing the correct uniform, including, memorably, Chris Sale being suspended for five games by the White Sox for attempting to modify his throwback uniform. Additionally, the league rules even dictate that all players for a team must be wearing the same uniform. Not that MLB even considered requiring that for more than a couple of minutes, I’m sure.
Beyond that, can you imagine if players decided they didn’t want to wear pink for Mother’s Day and insisted on wearing their standard uniforms? Or the camouflage hats they were on Memorial Day? Or even those Nike City Connect uniforms? Something tells me it wouldn’t go over very well.
“Fine,” you might insist, “but it still isn’t a big deal!” You’d also be wrong about that. Had Tampa Bay done nothing, the clowns who decided to protest the existence of an entire group of people would have had no one particularly interested in talking to them about their hateful views. Lest you think I am calling them clowns simply because I disagree with them, peruse the following quote and look me in the eye and tell me how someone could say this with a straight face without being a clown:
... ultimately we all said what we want is them to know that all are welcome and loved here. But [...] it’s just that maybe we don’t want to encourage it
They want you to know we’re all welcome and loved here, but they don’t want to encourage “it.” It, here, of course, is “existing.”*
The end result of the Rays’ Pride Night is a net negative in the lives of queer people. Most of them would not have known or noticed if Tampa Bay and the other baseball teams didn’t have pride nights; now, they’re all being exposed to more people talking about how they shouldn’t exist. This, in turn, inspired lots of editorials and discussions about whether the Rays’ players were justified in their actions. Since not all of those opposed the Rays’ players’ behavior, even if many did, that’s even more exposure to hate that people had to endure simply for existing.
The very first time they faced any pushback, the team caved and allowed an event ostensibly about support to become about hatred instead. They even patted themselves on the back for it. If teams can’t be trusted to keep these events to something resembling a net neutral effect, then they absolutely cannot be allowed to continue to profit off of them at the expense of queer people.
So what comes next?
The worst part about what happened in Tampa Bay is that it showed that there are no consequences for flipping the script on a Pride Night, and doing so might actually boost a given player’s platform. Given that, teams can no longer be allowed to continue as they have. Even teams that don’t ask their players to wear rainbow-themed uniforms could be opening themselves up to players taking the opportunity to shout about how much they hate queer people.
Given that, the best-case scenario would be that teams take their support of LGBTQIA+ people more seriously. The best way to prove that is to donate some percentage of the profits from these games to queer charities. Suicide rates are higher among LGBTQIA+ individuals, especially teens, than others with similar demographics. Anything that can be done to reduce those numbers would be beneficial. That way, even if players say awful things, tangible good can still outweigh it. Barring that admittedly-unlikely scenario, teams should be prepared to suspend players who refuse to wear pride-themed uniforms the same way they would any other uniform variation, even if it’s just for one night. Team leadership should also be prepared to condemn their behavior as exclusionary instead of disingenuously insisting that positive conversations were held.
But, yeah, none of that seems likely, either. The absolute very least teams can and must do, and I’m talking bare minimum, is this: refrain from asking players to participate, remind the players to keep their mouths shut if they’re not going to be effusively supportive, and then carry on as they have done. Not exactly beneficial to anyone or anything except the team’s bottom line, but at this point, we’re performing triage and trying to find the most likely outcome with the least harm done.
By the way, this isn’t as simple as they’d have it
The Rays’ players were also quoted as saying that Jesus said that homosexuality was wrong. Jesus, of course, never said anything about homosexuality. The Bible appears to condemn it in other places but it condemns lots of things that Christians regularly ignore or even actively participate in and Jesus Himself never uttered a single quote about it - at least not in the books that are commonly accepted as part of the Bible. It was also not important enough to include in the famous Ten Commandments.
Instead, things Jesus did say include, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” and, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words, “Mind your own business, focus on improving yourself, and be nice to everyone else.” On a tangentially related note, Jesus also said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” But I don’t see anyone who decries the sin of homosexuality out there donating all of their worldly possessions, either.
If we really followed the teachings of Christ, we would remember that someone else’s sexual orientation is none of our business, that all sins are equal in God’s eyes (and that none of us are perfect), and we would be just as willing to celebrate them as we are teachers and nurses. After all, we’re all God’s children and God loves us all equally; who are we to decide that God isn’t discriminating enough?