In the hours and days after the terrorist attack on a gay bar in Orlando, the city's Major League Soccer Club, Orlando City SC, put out dozens of messages about the tragedy. The team's tweets and Facebook posts featured #OrlandoUnited and were adorned with rainbow flags. The team put out a seven-paragraph statement honoring the "fallen" from the "tragic events."
Yet in all of the team's efforts, something has been desperately missing. There has been no direct mention by the team of the target of the attack: the LGBT community. The team has not uttered the words "LGBT," "gay," lesbian," "bisexual," "transgender," or "sexual orientation." Only four days after the attack did the team refer to even the name of the gay club - "Pulse" - where the attack occurred.
Sure, they use "safe" terms like "pride," and they put a rainbow on their logo. But actually mention the targeted community by name? Not once.
When I reached out to the team's spokespeople to ask them why that was, they did not respond.
They weren't alone. In the hours after the attack, the Orlando Magic released a very general statement of community support, again with no mention of the LGBT community. They also tweeted and retweeted numerous times, including the thoughts of different athletes and media personalities, none of which specifically mentioned gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, LGBT or the name of the gay bar. They referred to "neighbors," "friends," "families," "all impacted," "victims," "loved ones," "our community," and "one Orlando." Yet no mention of the real reason those 49 people are dead.
One athlete the Magic didn't retweet? Their most famous and decorated athlete ever, Shaquille O'Neal, who was one of the few prominent people in sports to mention our community by name:
My thoughts & prayers go out to my Orlando LGBT community brothers and sister during this senseless act of violence.— SHAQ (@SHAQ) June 12, 2016
Love is Love!
On Monday, Magic CEO Alex Martins appeared in a 10-minute interview about the attack with 96.9 The Game. Martins talked about the "heinous act of hate," but not whom that hate was directed toward. He specifically mentioned the police who were first responders, but didn't mention the "LGBT" people they were responding to. He mentioned being a "community of inclusion and acceptance," but not the "gay" people they were inclusive and accepting of. He discussed coming together over "differences," but not the different "sexual orientations" that were driving the conversation. He mentioned partnering with the "LGBT community" only once in 10 minutes not in relation to the attack, but as a community-business-partnership opportunity along the lines of gender and ethnicity.
The Orlando Predators, the city's Arena Football League team, released a 400-word statement on the attack, mentioning the "LGBTQ community" only as a side note near the very end.
All of the above Orlando-based teams joined the Solar Bears hockey team joined forces to sell T-shirts to benefit OneOrlando. The teams' joint release had no mention of the LGBT community, Pulse nightclub, sexual orientation, gender identity or any permutation of any of the letters of our community.
Major League Baseball, which has led the four big leagues in the last two years on LGBT issues, acknowledged the mass shooting in Orlando, with teams flying flags at half-mast and observing a moment of silence. While the league did retweet a mention of a "Pride Night" promotion by the Athletics, the league didn't mention LGBT, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, sexual orientation, gender identity or the name of the gay club either.
The Tampa Bay Rays, down the freeway from Orlando, transformed their "Pride Night" (note that it isn't called "LGBT Pride Night," but just "Pride Night") this week in honor of the victims of the Orlando shooting. Part of the proceeds were directed to helping the "families of the victims." On the event's own Web page, there is no mention of "LGBT," "gay" or anything of the sort. In the team's minute-long video released to honor the victims, "LGBT" was mentioned once by one player (out of the seven to eight members of the team recorded) at the very end of the video. The team has not tweeted the term "LGBT" or "gay" once since the shooting. Team president Brian Auld did mention "LGBT" once in a statement about the team's "Pride Night" this Friday.
Going even a step further to erase the LGBT community from the Orlando tragedy, the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates tossed aside the rainbow and wore silver ribbons to honor the victims of the attack. Of course, they had gotten the terrible idea from the Tony Awards earlier this week. Incidentally, it was the Mets who in 2004 wouldn't let me use "gay" in the title of our community night with the Mets, having to go with the vanilla "Out at the Ballgame."
Even outside of the professional ranks, other levels of sports found it impossible to mention the LGBT community. The US Men's National Soccer Team recorded a video completely void of any mention of the people targeted for their sexual orientation:
Of course, this is all better than the NFL, which did not release any statement on Orlando despite just naming the city the host of the 2017 Pro Bowl (Orlando is also smack dab in the middle of three different NFL teams). In fact, a search of "Orlando" on NFL.com provided zero -- ZERO -- results mentioning the terror attack.
To be sure, there were a handful of others in sports who, like Shaq, specifically connected the tragedy to the affected community. Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan went all-in on Twitter. The Oakland Athletics invited Billy Bean to speak at their event, and their Web page -- while called simply "Pride Night" instead of "LGBT Pride Night" -- mentioned LGBTQ a couple times and sent proceeds to the local AIDS Project, which has been a focus of the Bay Area LGBT community for decades.
Who did say the words "gay," "lesbian" and "LGBT" in the hours after the shooting? Michael Sam. Jason Collins. Conner Mertens. Martina Navratilova. In other words... LGBT athletes. On MLB's Web site, the only mention of LGBT people in connection with the Orlando shooting I could find earlier this week was from a story featuring quotes by Billy Bean, who is gay. Bean, for his part, has been spot-on, mentioning LGBT people specifically in connection with the attack in virtually every interview and public appearance I've seen.
Why does it seem the LGBT people in sports understand the importance of making the connection between the massacre and the targeted community, but straight athletes and front-office executives don't? Why have the straight people in pro sports virtually scrubbed the tragedy of any mention of LGBT people?
There are several possible explanations.
The sports world is an inherently homophobic institution
I don't buy this one.
At the very least, teams in every league have made overtures to the LGBT community. The NBA has a pride shirt for every team. The NFL has engaged in surface-level conversations and included sexual orientation in its collective bargaining agreement. The NHL has close ties to the You Can Play project and has taken various opportunities to promote LGBT equality. Major League Baseball hired Billy Bean and has been out front on including LGBT issues. Major League Soccer has the only out professional gay-male pro team athlete in the United States. The WNBA has a multitude of out athletes.
You simply cannot say that professional sports are inherently anti-LGBT from top to bottom.
It's just an accident
I don't buy this one either. If it were one or two sports entities avoiding the terms, sure, it could be just a simple oversight. The way "LGBT" and "gay" have been scrubbed from the vast majority of communication from the sports world about the tragedy demands a better explanation than "it's just an accident."
Straight people in sports don't get the importance of saying the words
There's a line of thinking that believes vague pronouncements of "inclusion" and "acceptance" are more powerful than stating very specifically what you're being inclusive and accepting of. We see this over and over again, even in the LGBT community. Yet these general messages are often either confused with an embrace of race and gender, or sexual orientation and gender identity are preferably and consciously ignored.
We know that if you want to make a statement that honors LGBT people, you have to say the words "LGBT," "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," "trans," "transgender," "queer," "sexual orientation," "gender identity," or any combination or permutation of those terms. Without saying it, you're ignoring it. Sadly, the sports world is collectively choosing to ignore the essential LGBT aspect of this tragedy.
Straight people in sports just don't want to say the words "LGBT," "gay" or "sexual orientation"
I have been so impressed with the Los Angeles Dodgers' complete embrace of the LGBT community the last couple of years. No professional sports team has demonstrated a more overt and powerful connection to our community than the boys in blue. They call their night simply "LGBT Night." No smoke and mirrors here.
Not surprisingly, it's a gay man -- Erik Braverman -- who organizes the night and clearly understands the importance of using the letters.
The Washington Nationals, who draw thousands, don't even mention "Pride" in their promotion, only "Night Out." You can't get more straight or vanilla than that. The San Diego Padres, who got into hot water for screwing up the national anthem of the local gay men's chorus? Same thing. New York Mets? Same thing. At least the Philadelphia Phillies, who have been hosting an LGBT Night in some form for years, mention "LGBT" on their "Pride Night" page. The Boston Red Sox call their night "Pride Night" as well, but at least on their Web page they mention "LGBT" numerous times. The New York Giants made headlines this past year by creating a You Can Play video, yet failed to mention "LGBT," "gay," "trans," or "sexual orientation" in the video.
As we've said at Outsports over and over again, it's important to have out LGBT in decision-making positions in sports organizations. LGBT people get it. Braverman and the Dodgers get it. Virtually everyone else? Meh.