Rays pitchers make a stink about Pride celebration
Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, Brooks Raley, Jeffrey Springs and Ryan Thompson opted out of wearing a Pride-themed Rays uniform on Saturday.
Pride Night has become something of an annual tradition for many teams in Major League Baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays are no different, holding their Pride Night this past Saturday at Tropicana Field in a game against the Chicago White Sox. To honor the LGBQT+ community, the Rays slightly altered their uniforms to include a rainbow-colored logo on the hat, as well as a rainbow sunburst on the right sleeve.
Five members of the Rays — all pitchers, coincidentally — opted out, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported. Those were: Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, Brooks Raley, Jeffrey Springs, and Ryan Thompson. Adam was selected to speak on behalf of the quintet. He said:
A lot of it comes down to faith, to like a faith-based decision. So it’s a hard decision. Because ultimately we all said what we want is them to know that all are welcome and loved here. But when we put it on our bodies, I think a lot of guys decided that it’s just a lifestyle that maybe — not that they look down on anybody or think differently — it’s just that maybe we don’t want to encourage it if we believe in Jesus, who’s encouraged us to live a lifestyle that would abstain from that behavior, just like (Jesus) encourages me as a heterosexual male to abstain from sex outside of the confines of marriage. It’s no different.
It’s not judgmental. It’s not looking down. It’s just what we believe the lifestyle he’s encouraged us to live, for our good, not to withhold. But again, we love these men and women, we care about them, and we want them to feel safe and welcome here.
For what it’s worth, the other Rays pitchers’ social media are largely inactive but most of them have a Bible verse or “believer” in their bios.
The five Rays pitchers received a heavy dose of criticism after their decisions were made public. Rays pitcher Nick Anderson — currently on the mend from right elbow surgery — took to Twitter to defend his teammates:
Anderson was then on the receiving end of social media backlash. Later that day, he came back with a notes-app screenshot clarifying his stance:
When I say differing beliefs, I’m talking about the people who believe everyone should wear something and if you don’t, you should burn and are a terrible person or whatever name you want to call them. I also was saying that just because you don’t wear maybe a said “patch” doesn’t mean you think those people should burn and are terrible people. Come on everyone [facepalm emoji]. I never once said I thought gay people weren’t born gay. Or that homophobia was right. So to all of you who are trying to find any little thing to twist and make someone look bad for saying something that they never said, whatever you got going on in your life making you this way, just know that it will all be okay! Much love [‘call me hand’ emoji].
It’s easy to want to dissect Adam and Anderson’s statements, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Sports teams’ Pride nights are performative “woke” or “rainbow” capitalism. In the Rays’ defense, they are better than most: Topkin noted that the club signed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting same-sex marriage, and joined the “It Gets Better” campaign against youth bullying. Saturday’s event included a $20,000 donation to Metro Inclusive Health, a non-profit that provides inclusive health and wellness services to the community around St. Petersburg, Florida. (Tangentially related: The Rays recently drew the ire of Republican governor Ron DeSantis after tweeting about gun safety following the Uvalde school shooting.)
But what good is a Pride night at the ballpark if the team also has a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day? Members of the LGBTQ+ community are at higher risk of interactions with law enforcement, which largely end in arrest or violence, or both. The famous Stonewall riots in New York City back in 1969 featured the gay community on one side and the police on the other; the oppressed versus their oppressors. That hasn’t changed.
Furthermore, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg donated to Republican Chris Christie’s presidential campaign back in 2015. Christie opposed gay marriage and vetoed bills on two separate occasions that would have allowed transgender people to change their gender on their birth certificates. The Rays also donated to now-disgraced Republican Jack Latvala back in 2014. He resigned from the Senate at the end of 2017 after allegedly trading legislative action in exchange for sexual favors. Six women, including some lobbyists, accused him of sexual harassment. Latvala, unsurprisingly, was not a friend of the LGBTQ+ community, voting against a measure that would have prohibited discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Would it have been nice for all of the Rays players to have happily donned the Pride-themed uniforms? Sure, but it’s an empty gesture if they don’t truly believe in the cause. I don’t want a homophobe or transphobe to be forced to wear Pride gear. I want them to learn about and empathize with LGBTQ+ people and wear the rainbow on their own terms. Shaming them and forcing them to wear certain clothing isn’t going to change their minds or make them any more curious to learn; it will only make them more recalcitrant.
Besides, what did MLB and the Rays expect? The players, as a whole, largely skew conservative. What Adams and Anderson believe is shared by a majority of people in the industry. We’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of broadcaster Thom Brennaman’s hot-mic anti-gay slur. This is also a league that has had repeated incidents of players using homophobic slurs. Homophobic and transphobic hazing rituals were only recently banned by Major League Baseball. There are no actively-out players because it’s still not a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ people.
At the end of the day, I want meaningful action from the Rays, not rainbow capitalism. Sternberg has donated to Democrats more recently (and has donated to them more overall), but the Democrats aren’t, as a unit, perfect on LGBTQ+ issues themselves. If the Rays truly are supportive of Pride, how about Sternberg putting some of his $800 million net worth into smaller, closer elections backing representatives who clearly and unambiguously champion LGBTQ+ rights? He has supported Charlie Crist; we’ll need that — Crist is trying to unseat DeSantis in the midterms — and then some.
And it shouldn’t just be about the Rays; it should be about all 30 teams, all of their owners and executives, their players and coaches and broadcasters. Do you just want to sell baseball merch with rainbows on them, or do you actually want to help transgender people get the healthcare they deserve? Do you just want another theme night to add to the promotional schedule, or do you actually want to help end discrimination against LGBTQ+ people? All of the rainbow logos in the world didn’t stop Republicans passing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida. It won’t stop them from continuing to push the envelope further and further. To the Adams and Andersons of the world, Pride is a sensitive topic that gets them a couple of flippant quote-retweets. To members of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s a matter of life and death.