In May 2019, shortly after the Mets announced their original partnership with Chick-fil-A, I had a meeting at Citi Field with Mets Executive Vice President & Chief Revenue Officer, Lou DePaoli. This meeting was to discuss the impact that such a partnership had on the Mets standing and relationship with the LGBTQ community. I made it clear in no uncertain terms that having those advertisements and promotions were clearly a move that was tone deaf and not in line with what he had written to me just a few weeks earlier.
DePaoli stated via email: “Our organization’s position on inclusion has always been very clear and we have been leaders in the LGBTQ community and proud to promote diversity at all of our games.”
DePaoli continued: “We strive to make sure that everyone is welcomed and celebrated at Citi Field as New York is the most diverse and inclusive city in the world.”
I was told that the Chick-fil-A partnership was a short-term agreement and that it would be reevaluated at the conclusion. With the Covid-19 pandemic wiping out months of the 2020 season and no fans in the stands at Citi Field, it stood to reason that no announcements on in-game promotions would happen for the 2020 championship campaign.
This was a great sign, that the Mets were continuing their ever-evolving quest to move forward, and a sign that DePaoli was right; it was a short-term promo that not only fanned flames towards the LGBTQ community, but the everyday fan also who sat behind these signs now had an obstructed view. It was a good move for the Mets.
The Mets and Major League Baseball were huge catalysts for last summer’s social justice protests across the nation. There was the game last August, when the Mets and Marlins lined up and then left the field to stand in support and solidarity with the Black community. They draped home plate in a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and brought awareness and dialogue around the senseless deaths of so many marginalized people, especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
On June 1, 2020, the Mets released a statement which in part said, ”We take pride in our diversity. It is our strength. That is why we denounce all forms of racism and discrimination. We stand with our state, our city, and community. We hope to be a part of positive change in our society.”
On March 16, 2021, new Mets owner Steven Cohen announced on Twitter: “…the Chick-fil-A foul pole sign has been officially retired.”
Nothing to say there but the Chick-fil-A foul pole sign has been officially retired— Steven Cohen (@StevenACohen2) March 17, 2021
Just two days after Cohen’s statement, on March 19, 2021 the Mets released the following statement regarding anti-Asian hatred, violence: “…What makes New York New York is the respect we all have for each other, no matter who we are or where we’re from. We have no room or time for hate in New York.”
The Mets heroes on the field to me since I was a toddler were now not just saying the right things, they were putting it into action. The support of communities that have long been marginalized and put upon was refreshing and quite honestly very freeing as a gay baseball and Mets fan.
Then to cap off all of this, Major League Baseball announced that it was relocating the 2021 All-Star Game and Draft, scheduled for July 2021 at Truist Park in Cobb County, Ga., home of the Atlanta Braves. The decision was handed down by Commissioner Rob Manfred after the passage of S.B. 202, a Georgia law that President Joe Biden criticized as a “Jim Crow” law.
“This law is voter suppression plain and simple,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Aimed at making it harder for Black and brown and other historically disenfranchised communities to have a voice in our democracy.”
Major League Baseball just went further than my local team, one of only 30 franchises, and put the entire sport at the podium for standing up for what is right. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred said. “In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States.”
I was floored and equally excited, that MLB was now being so out-front and progressive, along with the Mets to stand up for those who had long been bypassed and voices silenced.
So, imagine my dismay when on the morning of Thursday, April 8, 2021, hours before the Mets took on the Philadelphia Phillies in their long-delayed Opening Day game, the Mets official Twitter sent out the words: “At every regular season home game this year, if a #Mets player hits a home run off of the Chick-fil-A #EatMorChikin sign, you will receive one FREE Chick-fil-A Entrée offer at participating local Tri-State area Chick-fil-A restaurants.” Along with a photo of a very large and new sign that spanned the width of half of the Shea Bridge seating area just above the right-center field fencing.
At every regular season home game this year, if a #Mets player hits a home run off of the @ChickfilA #EatMorChikin sign, you will receive one FREE Chick-fil-A Entrée offer* at participating local Tri-State area Chick-fil-A restaurants.— New York Mets (@Mets) April 8, 2021
*Restrictions apply. See app for details. pic.twitter.com/3uow2x8Ye8
How could that be possible when you are willingly partnering with a company whose foundation has funded programs and organizations aimed at debasing the LGBTQ community? You cannot stand on the laurels of what great things you have done for marginalized and diverse communities while partnering with a business which has earned a reputation for actively working for dismantling hard-fought rights and encourages others to oppose our very existence.
This is exactly what MLB took a stand against when they moved the All-Star Game. They made a business decision and ethical stand to support those who needed support.
Chick-fil-A also has felt the pressure to change their business practices and in November 2019, it looked like they would, but then quickly did an about-face.
“Our goal is to donate to the most effective organizations in the areas of education, homelessness and hunger,” Chick-fil-A President and COO Tim Tassopoulos said in a statement. “No organization will be excluded from future consideration — faith based, or non-faith based.”
In 2017, the Chick-fil-A Foundation donated $1.6 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an overtly religious organization that makes its members subscribe to a “sexual purity” policy that outlaws “homosexual acts.” It also donated to groups with a history of anti-gay and anti-trans actions, such as the Salvation Army and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.
These organizations fit Chick-fil-A’s model of funding education, housing homeless and ending hunger. So, while they have stopped donating to groups like “Focus on the Family” and National Organization for Marriage,” they continued to give to these groups under the pretense of this new giving model. [Editor’s note: USA Today reported in June 2020 that the company had not, as of that date, resumed funding groups that oppose LGBTQ rights.]
I and many of my friends and family do not feel truly welcomed or celebrated when we see that signage up in the park. Have we stayed away from the park? No, many of us have not. But imagine walking into someone’s home for a party and seeing imagery that was hostile and offensive, and the host saying, “No its okay, it’s just a sign, photo or flag. We really do support you.” Would you feel truly wanted in that moment?
If the Mets and MLB were truly leaders in inclusivity and working towards that goal for all, as their many statements in the past year have said, they would have said, “No, thank you,” to Chick-fil-A. Doing the right thing is not always easy, but it should be easy to do the right thing. MLB needs to step in and take a stand now as well; this is not just the Mets. At least a half dozen other teams have sponsorship or promotional deals with Chick-fil-A, and well over 2 dozen in the minor leagues do, too.
Stating you’re inclusive but putting up those ads is pandering for our support and our dollars, but does nothing to stop what only perpetuates an atmosphere of intolerance, and only helps normalize what should not be considered normal corporate behavior and responsibility.
It is sad that in 2021 this opinion piece needs to be written. The LGBTQ community in many regards is one of the last where discrimination is tolerated on some level.
I’ll quote Mets Rookie of the Year and All-Star Pete Alonso, to give words to my thoughts: “I have a voice and I will not remain silent.”
Major League Baseball, you want to be a leader? Then lead. Do not be silent, because silence in this case only makes you look like you are choosing sides for reasons well beyond the “social responsibility” you have stated you have to our nation, our communities and your fanbase.
Paul Sanders co-founded the LGBTQ Facebook groups dedicated to the New York Mets and the 29 other MLB teams, as well as many other sports. You can find those groups by clicking here. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org