June is Pride Month, as many of us know. Baseball tries its level best to get in on the action by doing things that are ostensibly supporting the LGBTQ community. I attended the Pride Night at Dodger Stadium last Friday night. It was a different experience in the sense there were a lot of people at the game who are not regular attendees. This meant more people who couldn’t find their seats and slower foot traffic on the concourse. I didn’t mind the festivities, let’s just say the kiss cam was quite a thing, but it did feel a lot like pandering to me. Baseball is far from the most progressive sport when it comes to social issues, despite what they claim when draping themselves in Jackie Robinson gear every year on April 15th.
The Tampa Bay Rays had a sizeable contingent of players who opted out of wearing elements of their uniforms signifying support for the LGBTQ community. The unofficial spokesman for the group said it was a “faith-based decision”, and they are followers of Jesus. Never mind the part about Jesus never saying anything about homosexuality in the Bible. I reached out to an old friend of mine, who happens to be a religious scholar at Wheaton College in Illinois, to confirm I hadn’t missed something in Sunday school as a kid. The way he explained it to me is “I am a Christian. When I celebrate the lives of Muslim Americans I am not saying I am a Muslim or that I agree completely with their beliefs. I am saying I recognize their inherent value and contributions to our community. I think the error some make is equating recognition and value with total agreement. In my mind, that is flawed reasoning.” He also noted an inconsistency among those who will defend the Rays players, yet condemned the players who spoke out against police brutality.
Now when I take a step back and look at the game from a more holistic viewpoint I see a lot of this as a cynical money grab. Having hats and shirts with rainbows on them might look good as corporate eyewash, but that’s all it is. The Dodgers had the family Glenn Burke throw out the first pitch. Burke was the first openly gay player big league player during his career in the 1970’s (He is also the person credited with coming up with the high five). However, this doesn’t mean the sport is accepting of gay players; this is evidenced by the fact there are no openly gay players in major league baseball today. Allowing players to opt out of wearing hats and jerseys is tacit acceptance and approval of their position.
If the league is truly serious about diversity and inclusion then players would not be able to wear some other version of the uniform. To pick a more recent bit of pandering, Memorial Day was last Monday and the league had players running around in camouflage hats and jerseys all weekend. Does this mean a player can opt out of the other version if the player is a conscientious objector? Of course not. That would be bad for the brand. It does seem a bit odd a left-leaning cause is optional where the right-leaning cause is mandatory. The players are employees of the teams, and by proxy are representatives of the league. The league can simply state it is part of the dress code policy and players must be in matching uniforms like they do any other night.
How about we do everyone a favor and skip the rainbow uniforms, and the military themed unis? Since folks want to say they see baseball as an escape, then let them. Baseball should be a neutral place where the focus is on the field. I don’t need flyovers any more than I need two guys kissing on the jumbotron in the fifth inning. Teams can invite and spotlight different groups every night, but keep the players in their regular uniforms; the league can sell the rainbow shirts and camo caps in the team store but keep them off of the field.