As we near the end of June, almost every MLB team has managed to pull off a successful Pride Night, honoring their gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer fans.
In our present day environment, that’s worth celebrating. Although the next Pride Month is a full calendar year away, the thought occurred to me recently that the Chicago White Sox have an amazing Pride promotion opportunity just sitting in their laps and next year would be the perfect time to make it happen.
In order to do so, though, they’ll have to revisit one of the biggest embarrassments in franchise history along the way. While 2024 will be the 45th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night, it’s also an ideal time for the Sox to stand shoulder to shoulder with their LGBTQ fans by scheduling Disco Appreciation Night.
Disco Demolition remains one of the most infamous promotions in sports history and more than four decades later, the footage of thousands of straight white people attacking music produced mainly by Black artists for Black and gay audiences is still appalling.
The night played out as if a time traveling White Sox executive thought, “The best way to add more excitement to baseball is by ending every game like Woodstock ‘99.’” It all started when bombastic Chicago DJ Steve Dahl was fired from a gig when his station changed to an all-disco format and he adopted a “rock and roll avenger” persona that caught on throughout the city.
As his popularity soared, Dahl partnered with White Sox owner and promotional maverick Bill Veeck to create Disco Demolition Night, an evening where any fan who turned in a disco record would be admitted to Comiskey Park for 98 cents. Between games of the doubleheader, Dahl planned to host a ceremony to blow up a dumpster loaded with those disco records in center field.
The stands were choked well beyond capacity, with angry disco haters spilling out into the aisles and a general sense of rage built inning by inning. Throughout the first game, fans interrupted play by tossing records on the field and chanting “DISCO SUCKS! DISCO SUCKS!” as if the White Sox were playing KC & The Sunshine Band.
When Dahl emerged between games in military regalia (a costume that aged as well as his shtick), he looked out at the mob of angry straight white people and declared, “Disco sucks and we’re never gonna let ‘em forget it. They’re not gonna shove it down our throats!” It’s telling that during a promotion set up to be about rock versus disco, the loudest sound of the night was a dog whistle.
After Dahl detonated some of the greatest dance music of all time, the enraged mob he created took that as a signal to storm the field. A giant mosh pit of humanity engulfed the diamond, lit a bonfire in center field, clambered up and down the foul poles, and clashed with riot police. The White Sox had to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader— perhaps the only time in baseball history a game was called on account of toxic masculinity.
So for every Twitter troll who’s ever typed the question “When’s straight pride night,” there’s your answer: July 12, 1979. It did not go well. I don’t have a problem with straight people, but why did they have to throw their straightness in our faces?
It wasn’t long after the last bonfire burned out that disco’s popularity crashed. Disco Demolition’s role in its decline was so influential that “RuPaul’s Drag Race” referenced it during the show’s Disco-mentary in Season 13. As Chic’s Nile Rodgers recalled, “It felt to us like Nazi book burning. This is America — the home of jazz and rock and people were now afraid even to say the word ‘disco.’”
This was also the kind of atmosphere that people who are opposed to Pride Nights would like to bring back. In an era where 29 out of 30 MLB teams celebrate their LGBTQ fans every year, you can’t look at Disco Demolition as anything other than a nightmare.
So when the White Sox plan their Pride Night for 2024, they have an opportunity to correct that wrong and place themselves firmly on the right side of history. It’s the perfect time for the White Sox to celebrate Pride with Disco Appreciation Night.
Of course, the argument can be made that with playlists encompassing Diana Ross, Kylie Minogue, and Dua Lipa, every team’s Pride Night is also a disco appreciation promotion. But with a full year’s time, the White Sox have the opportunity to plan a night that doesn’t just play the hits but teach how the disco culture of the 1970s paved the way for house, hip hop, and dance pop that the LGBTQ community embraces today.
Most importantly, it also gives the Sox time to plan on the best ways to extend an olive branch to the artists who had to watch their records get blown up on their home field four decades ago.
Just as an example, what could illustrate the persistence and triumph of LGBTQ culture better than the one-time Disco Demolition White Sox inviting Gloria Gaynor to sing the national anthem? Or playing a full game where Tim Anderson walks up to “Fly, Robin, Fly” and Liam Hendriks enters in the ninth inning to “Shake Your Groove Thing?”
Other teams have hosted Disco Nights in the past. But because the White Sox are so closely associated with a violent attack on the genre and its subsequent decline, putting Disco Appreciation Night on the schedule would be newsworthy for all the right reasons. Pairing it with Pride Night would serve to amplify our community’s own sense of survival, symbolized by the music that we never abandoned.
Disco Appreciation Night would be an opportunity for the White Sox to send the best possible message for next year’s Pride: Love wins. And so does Donna Summer.