When five Tampa Bay Rays players refused to wear a game uniform with a rainbow logo during Pride month, it seemed like a childish move.

Now it’s clear they started a misguided trend that is not-so-quietly building amongst anti-gay athletes in sports around the world.

The refusal to wear a rainbow-colored uniform — and potentially miss games for the club that pays you to play — misses the entire point of the very simple act, instead infusing a clear message of inequality and rejection of an entire class of people.

To be sure, the move by the Rays pitchers wasn’t the first time athletes had refused to wear a rainbow on their uniform. A few years ago, soccer player Jaelene Hinkle refused to do the same, ruffling quite a few feathers in women’s professional soccer, where so many gay athletes are out. Now Jaelene Daniels, she again has refused to wear a Pride-themed uniform, sitting out a Pride match for the North Carolina Courage.

I had previously said I was reserving judgment of Daniels’ anti-gay past to see what she’d do next. Now it’s clear the Courage are embracing and employing a woman who fully rejects gay fans.

Players of the Manly Sea Eagles in Australia, as well as Paris Saint Germain’s Idrissa Gueye from the rabidly anti-gay country of Senegal, did the same last year. Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers kicked off 2023’s Pride Nights also refusing to wear a rainbow jersey.

These anti-gay athletes hide behind “the Bible” and other old-fashioned cultural norms with their refusal, with the Rays players jointly saying “it’s just a lifestyle that … we don’t want to encourage … if we believe in Jesus.”

Of course, they have no problem defying many of the other rules of the Bible. Make no mistake: They pick and choose which “sins” they will protest, and sadly Christians have put a target on the backs of gay people, singling them out specifically for far too long.

I understand that long-held religious beliefs are hard to shake. Yet frankly, no one is asking them to.

I hated my sexuality for many years until I was finally able to move past what some old guys wrote in a book 2,000 years ago. It’s not easy to set aside what your parents, television, the news media, advertisements, some friends and your own religious leaders told you about gay people for many years.

Yet this misses the point: Wearing a rainbow patch on your uniform doesn’t say “my religion blesses all sexual relationships.”

It says: “Everyone is welcome at the stadium. If you’re a fan of my team or me, you’re welcome here.”

That’s it. Two simple sentences that every athlete should be able to get behind.

I’ve had some people ask me if I’d wear a cross to welcome Christians to a ballpark, if the team that employed me was having a Christian Night (and yes, by the way, many clubs host these).

Again, simple: 100%.

I’m not Christian. I was a couple decades ago, but I’ve since left my religious beliefs in the rear-view mirror, in part because of how people like Daniels and these other anti-gay athletes have used the religion I loved to beat me over the head with the Bible.

Every athlete should be able to wear a cross during Christian night, camo during military-appreciate night, and yes, a rainbow uniform during Pride night.

With no doubt, if an athlete refused to wear a Christian symbol for Christian night, or refused to wear camo for military-appreciation night, they would be attacked as anti-Christian and anti-military.

It’s the same thing here.

Their refusal betrays who they are. While the Rays players said in their horribly written statement that they want gay people “to feel safe and welcome here” at the ballpark, their singling out of this one issue in the Bible says otherwise.

Are they refusing to play in a ballpark that serves hot dogs? After all, that’s a sin in the very same book of the very same Bible.

If everyone is welcome in the ballpark, then athletes should have no problem making people actually feel welcome. Instead, these athletes send the very clear political message that they don’t want gay people around. They can deny it all they want, but that’s what it is.