Boston Red Sox great Kevin Youkilis is pretty certain he played with gay teammate during his 11-year big league career. That’s what the numbers say, after all.
If he did, he just hopes they knew he would be in their corner.
“If I ever played with anybody, I wish they would’ve felt comfortable enough to let me know that, so I could be there to stick up for them,” Youkilis told Outsports.
The Red Sox are hosting their ninth annual LGBTQ Pride Night Wednesday, but their efforts towards inclusion don’t stop there.
What they, and other Pride Night-hosting teams accomplish the other 364 nights of the year is far more impactful.
“Honestly, it’s not even about the celebration. It’s what you do after the celebration,” Youkilis said. “We’ll have these nights, or we’ll do all this stuff, and it’s not revisited until a year later. How are you living your personal life? Being inclusive is not about having a night or having a day or having a month. It’s more the way you live your life, and the lifestyle you want to live.”
On that one, Youkilis is preaching to the choir. It’s great that Pride Nights are now far more ubiquitous, with every MLB club hosting one this season (with one shameful exception).
There is power in the symbolism of seeing star MLB players wear Pride caps — such as every player on the Dodgers and Giants — and other rainbow-colored items. It shows that LGBTQ people are welcome on the field.
But symbols or slogans without corresponding action are hollow. The Red Sox, who were infamously the last team to racially integrate, have made championing LGBTQ pride one of their signature initiatives under owner John Henry.
Even in progressive Boston, the Red Sox have been ahead of the curve. They hosted their first Pride Night two years before the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade opened up to LGBTQ groups, and used to sponsor their own float in the Boston Pride parade (there was no parade this year).
Fenway Sports Group, the Red Sox’ parent company, donates to LGBTQ organizations across the city — including Fenway Health, a well-regarded LGBTQ medical and research center.
Earlier this year, the Red Sox released prospect Brett Netzer after he went on a homophobic Twitter spree.
While Youkilis retired from MLB in 2013 — just before championing LGBTQ causes became common practice for sports teams — the World Series champion and three-time All-Star remembers engaging in some conversations with other players about gay issues.
When he encountered teammates with ignorant attitudes, he says he would try to converse with them, rather than lambast them.
“I wouldn’t have cared being in the shower with someone, because I have to be secure with myself. It’s a weird insecurity for some people,” Youkilis said. “I always joke around and am like, ‘Get over yourself. They don’t think you’re cute, anyway.’”
As an adult, Youkilis says he has many LGBTQ people in his life, from friends to family members. He regularly broaches the topic with his three kids.
“I tell my kids, ‘People are born this way. And throughout life they adapt and grow and they have their own struggles with it, and if you can keep there to help them and embrace them through it, you’re doing your part,’” he said.
That’s another area where Youkilis nails it: people are born LGBTQ. That’s what made Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jason Adams’ statement about refusing to wear the Pride logo on his uniform so offensive. The right-hander said he wants LGBTQ people to feel welcome, but doesn’t want to “encourage” our behavior or “lifestyle” — indicating he thinks being gay is a choice.
Adams equated being gay to pre-marital sex, which is a fine comparison, except for one big difference: you can choose to have pre-martial sex. You can’t choose to be gay.
But even someone like Adams, or the other five Rays pitchers who also didn’t wear Pride patches, are capable of changing their views. In our conversation, Youkilis brought up the Black jazz musician, Daryl Davis, who converts members of the Klu Klux Klan.
It’s a prime example of how conversing with people generally works better than ostracizing them.
“It’s OK to have a civil conversation, and sit down and have dinner with someone you might not agree with,” Youkilis said. “More would be done on a grander scale if people could sit down and talk through things.”