Why have we seen increasing resistance to Pride Nights in sports over the last year? It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot recently.
The answer is pretty simple and — despite some of the anti-LGBTQ backlash faced by companies like Bud Light and Target — it may not be what you think.
While there is plenty of hubbub surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Pride Night this week and the honoring of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the vast majority of issues with sports Pride Nights we’ve seen since last June have stemmed from one thing:
Putting Pride rainbows on the athletes.
Since five Tampa Bay Rays players refused to wear the Pride rainbow last year, we’ve seen about two dozen athletes in MLB, the NHL and NWSL refuse to wear it. Those refusals have driven big headlines and, at times, unfortunately undermined the message of their team’s otherwise LGBTQ-inclusive Pride Night.
So when Adam Berry broke the news on MLB.com that Major League Baseball has indirectly barred teams from wearing Pride rainbows — or other local-event insignia (no, it’s not just about Pride) — on their uniforms during games this season, it raised some eyebrows.
“MLB informed teams during the offseason that they could only change their gameday uniforms for league-wide observances like Jackie Robinson Day,” Berry wrote, “except for two teams (Dodgers and Giants) granted exemptions based on a pre-existing agreement, and Pride Night is considered a local event.”
According to a league memo sent to teams in March, there are 10 league-wide observances in 2023, and Pride — celebrated by different teams on different days — isn’t one of them.
Last year the Dodgers and Giants both wore rainbow logos on their caps for Dodgers’ Pride Night. Over the weekend, the Giants wore the Pride caps for their LGBTQ celebration.
The Rays wore Pride caps last year as well, just like the Dodgers and Giants. So why weren’t the Rays “grandfathered in” like the other two? Did they not request a waiver? Is the club just hiding behind this seemingly new policy?
A request for comment from the Rays went unreturned.
Regardless, MLB senior vice president of diversity Billy Bean told Outsports that the Rays Pride night this year was “one of the most successful Pride Nights I have ever been to.”
Think about that. No, the players didn’t wear rainbows during the game. And yet it was a successful Pride Night. It was “one of the best” Bean, who has seen dozens of Pride Nights in his MLB role and was in the closet while playing for the Dodgers and San Diego Padres, has experienced.
Clearly, no team has to put Pride rainbows on any player to demonstrate acceptance of LGBTQ people or host a successful Pride Night.
In fact, depending on the club, it may detract from it, as it did with the Rays last year and a number of NHL teams this year.
Make no mistake: It’s been the placing of Pride rainbows on players that has by far generated the most powerful push-back to Pride Nights by a handful of athletes and agents in pro sports over the last decade.
“We have to be cognizant of the players’ personal beliefs,” Bean said. “This is a fluid conversation. This was the reaction to the environment we were all witnessing.”
Last year when those five Rays players refused to wear the Pride rainbow logo on their uniform, it created headlines including here at Outsports.
At the same time, the vast majority of Rays players wore the rainbow.
You have to wonder, who actually represents the sentiment in the Rays locker room? The 80% of players (in addition to coaches) who wore the rainbow, or the few athletes who refused?
80% vs. 20%. I’ll take those odds.
On Saturday, at least one player with the Rays — Yandy Díaz — wore rainbow armbands during the Pride Night game, and the club “found other ways to visibly express their support, including the sign on the right-field wall,” according to Berry’s report.
As in the main photo of this story, Rays pitcher Shawn Armstrong wore a T-shirt during warmups supporting Pride. This is identical to what many NHL teams did this past season.
Even if the league has made it harder to have a Pride logo on caps, players can still opt to wear rainbow accessory before or during the game.
And when athletes like Diaz and Armstrong choose to do it, it’s a powerful statement of inclusion.
Do I think the league should create a freer environment for teams to make this choice? Designate “LGBTQ Pride,” observed at some point in June, as a league-wide initiative? Absolutely.
Do I understand Bean’s reasoning, and why MLB is taking this step? Absolutely.
And if you’re pissed off at MLB about this new policy, know that these decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. You can bet the Major League Baseball Players Association — the players’ union — had something to say about their players being forced to wear rainbows.
Whether a handful of teams wear Pride rainbows on uniforms is not really the important story here.
If the NHL or Rays are any gauge, most pro athletes are ready, willing and able to wear a Pride rainbow.
As we’ve said for years, the acceptance-level of LGBT people in sports is way beyond what most of us realize.