Five Tampa Bay Rays players made headlines after refusing to don uniforms with rainbow-colored logos on them during the team’s recent Pride Night celebration on June 4, in what some critics saw as a rebuke of the LGBTQ community.
The players — pitchers Jason Adam, Jeffrey Springs, Ryan Thompson, Brooks Rally and Jalen Beeks — refused to wear uniforms with a rainbow-colored Rays starburst logo on the right sleeve, and a hat with a rainbow-colored “TB” logo for the celebration. Later, one of the players framed the group members’ decision as one based on their individual religious beliefs opposing the homosexual “lifestyle.”
“A lot of it comes down to faith, to like a faith-based decision,” Adam, speaking for the group, told the Tampa Bay Times. “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.”
Adam added that “we love these men and women, we care about them, and we want them to feel safe and welcome here.”
Rays President Matt Silverman said the issue had sparked dialogue among team members about valuing different perspectives. He said the organization wanted to share its values — including support for the LGBTQ community — by donning the uniforms, but didn’t want to force players to comply if they were uncomfortable.
“I’m proud of the fact we did this and so many of our players chose to wear the logo,” Silverman told the Tampa Bay Times in an interview. “I’m also proud of the conversations we had during the run-up to this night and in the aftermath. That’s a really good byproduct of this: to be able to actually have these conversations is really valuable and rare.”
While many Major League Baseball teams have held “Pride Night”-type celebrations to honor their LGBTQ fanbases, only three teams — the Rays, the San Francisco Giants, and Los Angeles Dodgers — have attempted to incorporate Pride-themed logos onto their uniforms, according to The New York Times. But while some Rays players protested, all players on the Giants and Dodgers chose to wear the uniforms with the Pride logos.
The five pitchers received some criticism on social media, fellow athletes, and sports show talking heads for refusing to wear the uniforms. Many critics also noted that by allowing players to refuse to wear the Pride logos, the team undercut the very message it was trying to send. Still others balked at Adam’s use of the word “lifestyle” and “behavior” — common tropes that have historically been used to demonize the LGBTQ community or imply that a person’s sexual orientation is simply all about the act of sex, rather than part of a person’s identity.
The Rays have previously shown support for LGBTQ rights in other ways, becoming the first professional sports team — and one of only three in total, along with the San Francisco Giants and the NFL’s New England Patriots — to sign onto an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting same-sex marriage.
The clubhouse joined the “It Gets Better” campaign to combat bullying of LGBTQ youth. In 2016, following the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, the Rays cut ticket prices for Pride Night and raised $300,000 to benefit victims of the mass shooting. This year, a rainbow-colored starburst logo has been on the back wall of Raymond James Stadium, where the team plays its home games.
The team has also supported other causes, including racial equality, autism awareness, mental health awareness, anti-gun violence, and military families. But not all of those have been met with welcoming arms, either. For instance, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took a swipe at the team for devoting its social media feeds to facts about gun-related violence in the United States following the Uvalde school massacre.
While DeSantis had already intended to veto a $35 million proposal to help the Rays build a new training center, he used the opportunity to once more rail against companies that take liberal positions on various issues.
“Companies are free to engage or not engage in whatever discourse they want, but clearly it’s inappropriate to be doing tax dollars for professional sports stadiums,” DeSantis said during a news conference on June 3. “It’s also inappropriate to subsidize political activism of a private corporation.”
That said, the fact that only five players on the team dissented may also speak volumes about growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
“It’s one of those things, my parents taught me to love everyone as they are, go live your life, whatever your preferences are, go be you,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who chose to wear the rainbow logos, told the Tampa Bay Times. “I can’t speak for everyone who’s in here, obviously, but this is a family-friendly environment here at a big league ballfield. … We just want everyone to feel welcomed and included and cheer us on. No matter what your views on anything are.”
Rays manager Kevin Cash said he doesn’t think the internal debate will negatively impact or divide the clubhouse because discussions held over the weeks leading up to Pride Night were constructive and respected different perspectives on the subject.
“First and foremost, I think the organization has done a really good thing to have Pride Nights supporting our gay community to come out and have a nice night at the ballpark,” Cash said. “Impressed that our players have had those conversations and we want to support our players that choose to wear or choose not to wear to the best of our capabilities.”
Those upset by the refusal of some players to wear the rainbow-themed insignia may also take comfort in the idea of “karma,” knowing that the two who did play — Rally and Beeks — gave up a two-run lead, allowing the Chicago White Sox to come away with the victory over the Rays last Saturday.
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