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SF Giants took the lead in promoting AIDS awareness through ‘Until There’s A Cure Day’

In 1994, the Giants set an example for the rest of baseball by devoting a game to HIV/AIDS charities. They’ve continued it every year since.

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Cleveland Indians v San Francisco Giants
A human red ribbon is a prominent part of the annual ceremony for Until There’s A Cure Day.
Photo by Don Smith /MLB Photos via Getty Images

Sometimes even the noblest ideas in sports have less than completely altruistic beginnings.

In 1994, new Giants owner Peter Magowan was getting ready to ask San Franciscans to build him a new ballpark. In and of itself, this wasn’t a huge story as pro sports owners spend roughly 95 percent of their waking hours attempting to convince cities to build them new stadiums. (The other five percent are devoted to persuading gullible sportswriters that they’re broke.)

Realizing that building such an ornate structure on San Francisco real estate would be incredibly costly, Magowan decided that a big part of his campaign would be centered around community outreach. Specifically, he wanted to connect the Giants to residents throughout the entire Bay Area and not just baseball fans.

As one of the cities hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and 90s, San Francisco communities were understandably focused on advancing HIV research and treatment. Magowan in turn realized that his team had the opportunity to use its platform to raise funding and awareness for those efforts.

So in August 1994, Until There’s A Cure Day was born.

That day’s game was devoted to HIV/AIDS awareness, with the Giants wearing red ribbons prominently on their uniforms and the AIDS quilt making an appearance on the field. The Giants also held a pregame ceremony featuring legendary activists Cleve Jones and Mary Fisher and donated money to local HIV/AIDS service organizations through the Until There’s A Cure Foundation.

Baseball - National League - Giants vs. Padres
The late former Giants owner, Peter Magowan, was one of the driving forces behind Until There’s A Cure Day.
Photo by Kimberly White/Corbis via Getty Images

Even though such a promotion was a monumental step forward for the times, it also reflected the LGBTQ attitudes of its era. Former Giants Director of Public Relations and Community Development Bob Rose spelled out what that meant on his firm’s website:

“While the Giants wanted to provide a platform for education and hope, they also knew that many of their season ticket holders might feel uncomfortable if Until There’s A Cure Day was perceived as merely a ‘Gay Day...’

“Consequently, our positioning... was this: Giants fans come from all walks of life and so do those affected by HIV and AIDS.”

Although they were hesitant about making the LGBTQ community the centerpiece, the Giants still rolled out an extensive promotional campaign, partnering with San Francisco TV stations to run PSAs and half hour specials. They even reached out to The New York Times to spread the story of Until There’s A Cure Day throughout the entire country.

The result: more than 50,000 fans attended the inaugural promotion. And this was in the era of Candlestick Park, a concrete mausoleum where fans were tortured by bitterly cold winds whipping off the nearby bay to the point where the Giants used to give commemorative pins to anybody who actually stayed to the end of extra-inning games. A crowd that size for a game in August was a huge deal.

With that kind of attendance, the Giants knew that Until There’s A Cure Day was a massive success and they’ve held it every year since, except of course, this impossible year. Throughout the years, the Giants’ most prominent players have also stepped up and taken lead roles in the festivities.

This began during that first promotion with All Star closer Rod Beck, who made HIV-related causes his charities of choice after being moved by a TV special on Ryan White, a child with AIDS who died in 1990. Then during that initial on-field ceremony, future home run record holder Barry Bonds waved the opposing Colorado Rockies onto the field to join Giants players in forming a human AIDS ribbon.

Bonds also lent his image to promotional photos wearing the charity’s commemorative bracelet and even took time to greet volunteers in subsequent years. There might be no better testimony to the power of Until There’s A Cure Day than this: it inspired Barry Bonds to be nice for at least ten seconds.

San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds gree
Barry Bonds before the 1999 Until There’s A Cure Day. Forget the Shot Heard Round the World, this photo might be the biggest miracle in Giants history.
Photo credit should read MONICA M. DAVEY/AFP via Getty Images

Throughout the years, the promotion has also featured prominent Giants from their 2010s dynasty like Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence. And in 2017, no less a baseball deity than Willie Mays showed up in the Wear the Bracelet campaign.

Even this season, when fans were not allowed to attend games, the Giants made sure to promote Until There’s A Cure Day online on the 26th anniversary of its inaugural game:

In addition, the Giants hosted a virtual panel discussion with MLB VP Billy Bean and the executive directors of Until There’s A Cure and the Oakland LGBTQ Center on the July day that the Giants had scheduled Until There’s A Cure Day 2020.

While it began in conjunction with a new ballpark effort, Until There’s A Cure Day immediately came to symbolize hope in the fight against AIDS. Over the past 27 years, that hope has grown so powerful, the promotion just survived 2020. That should be reason enough to galvanize all of us.

Find out more about Until There’s A Cure at the organization’s website by clicking here. You can also visit their page on Facebook.