During this past Pride Month, Outsports hosted a webinar titled “How to Build LGBTQ Inclusion With Your Favorite Pro Sports Team.” During the discussion, Cyd Zeigler asked the panel of professional sports front office people why we see so few active athletes participating in their teams’ Pride Night events.
“Players, though, are always a challenge. Players are fearful of making a misstep. Of upsetting one fan... Until there is a star player, until a Mike Trout or until a LeBron James or someone is willing to step forward and pave the way and make it comfortable for everyone else, I think everyone else tends to just be a little shy.”
It’s an understandable sentiment. Pro sports in general—and baseball especially—tend to let their stars dictate the behavior and atmosphere of their clubhouses. As we saw in The Last Dance, it’s why Michael Jordan could treat his teammates like they’d signed up for Joan Crawford fantasy camp and still be revered as a legend.
In that environment, it stands to reason that baseball would need one of its stars to take the first step and show his fellow players how to be a better LGBTQ ally. And when he hears talk like that, I imagine that Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle has to glance at his 2019 World Series ring and wonder, “What the hell does a guy need to do...?”
True, Doolittle is not a face of the game the way LeBron or Trout are. The only endorsement deal he’s inked thus far is one for demonstrating proper lightsaber protocol in a locker room celebration.
But a quick glance at Doolittle’s record reveals that he’s definitely performed at a star level during his eight years in the big leagues. His fellow players have recognized him as such by naming Doolittle to two All Star Games and he has played a key bullpen role for five playoff teams in Oakland and Washington.
And as previously mentioned, he was one of precisely two relief pitchers the Nationals trusted in key postseason spots on their way to a stunning world championship last year. Simply put, without Sean Doolittle, the 2019 World Series MVP would’ve been the Astros dugout trash can.
Off the field, Doolitte’s career track record is somehow even more impressive. Back in 2015 with the Oakland Athletics, Doolittle and his now-wife Eireann Dolan took a leadership role in reaching out to the community by promising to buy any A’s Pride Night tickets from disgruntled season ticket holders and donate them to Bay Area LGBTQ Youth charities.
Doolittle has also taken the field on Nationals Pride Night wearing cleats featuring the rainbow and trans flags and was the most prominent MLB player to condemn homophobic tweets from peers like Milwaukee’s Josh Hader, calling anti-gay slurs “bullshit” and asserting that “Some of the strongest people I know are from the LGBTQIA community.” He even declined an invitation to visit Donald Trump’s White House with the Nats after the World Series, citing his connection with his wife’s two mothers: “I want to show support for them. I think that’s an important part of allyship and I don’t want to turn my back on them.”
Then just in time for Pride Month, even as players and owners were still negotiating a basic agreement for the 2020 season, Doolittle unveiled a spectacular rainbow tie-dyed mitt that looked like he had just won a brand new award called The Eleganza Glove.
So if Sean Doolittle is one of the most accomplished and prominent relief pitchers in baseball and the sport’s strongest LGBTQ ally, why hasn’t he influenced more MLB players to step up and take part in their teams’ Pride activities?
One step in the right direction would be for MLB itself to amplify his voice. As the above-mentioned examples demonstrate, Doolittle is already willing to do the work and spend his time advocating for LGBTQ inclusion in the game. Meanwhile, the league itself has a platform to spread his message to baseball fans everywhere and show everyone that it’s willing to stand behind a player who steps up for the community.
Combining Doolittle’s activism with Major League Baseball’s influence would be a natural. Last year, MLB did something similar by making Pete Alonso one of the faces of its Shred Hate anti-bullying campaign. Creating a similar series of videos around Doolittle would be a good first step in helping his powerful words of support find a larger audience.
After this story was published, an MLB spokesperson reminded Outsports that Sean Doolittle was part of an anti-bullying PSA in 2018, along with other stars like Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, and Javy Báez.
In an increasingly competitive sports industry, more promotion of Doolittle’s activism would give baseball a leg up on the NFL, which — if their annual My Cause My Cleats campaign is any indication — doesn’t employ any players who make LGBTQ advocacy their number one social issue. As a baseball fan, nothing would please me more.
Sean Doolitte’s career is proof that standing up for LGBTQ fans is anything but a misstep. And coming off of his team’s world championship, MLB has the opportunity to give him a bigger opportunity to take his community outreach to the next level. If baseball wants an All Star to pave the way for more player participation in future Pride events, they can find him on the mound during every ninth inning at Nationals Park.