Something was missing in the highest of the eighth inning on Saturday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Tampa Bay Rays used two relief pitchers that inning — the left-handers Brooks Raley and Jalen Beeks — who wore jerseys with out a patch on their right sleeve.
This was not a manufacturer’s error or an equipment manager’s mistake. The patch was the Rays’ starburst emblem rendered in rainbow colours, just like the “TB” logo on the team’s cap, as a part of the team’s Pride Night promotion. Raley, Beeks and just a few other teammates selected to wear caps and jerseys without the rainbow accents.
Credit the Rays for trying. They’re certainly one of three teams, together with the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, to include Pride Night symbolism onto their uniforms. But while the Giants and the Dodgers had full participation, the Rays didn’t.
The Tampa Bay Times listed five players — the opposite three, pitchers Jason Adam, Jeffrey Springs and Ryan Thompson, didn’t play within the Rays’ 3-2 loss Saturday to the Chicago White Sox — amongst those that didn’t wear the rainbow insignias. The team chosen Adam, a 30-year-old right-hander, to clarify the players’ decision.
“Lots of it comes right down to faith, to love a faith-based decision,” he said. “So it’s a tough decision. Because ultimately all of us said what we wish is them to know that each one are welcome and loved here. But after we put it on our bodies, I feel lots of guys decided that it’s just a life-style that perhaps — not that they appear down on anybody or think in a different way — it’s just that perhaps we don’t need to encourage it if we imagine in Jesus, who’s encouraged us to live a life-style that may abstain from that behavior.”
Adam added that “we love these men and girls, we care about them, and we wish them to feel protected and welcome here.”
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In an interview on Sunday, Rays President Matt Silverman said the problem had sparked dialogue within the team’s clubhouse about valuing different perspectives.
“I’m happy with the very fact we did this and so a lot of our players selected to wear the emblem,” Silverman said. “I’m also happy with the conversations we had through the run-up to tonight and within the aftermath. That’s a very good byproduct of this: to give you the option to truly have these conversations is admittedly useful and rare.”
As a low-payroll team that challenges convention, the Rays prioritize clubhouse harmony; without buy-in from players, their unorthodox on-field strategies may not work. The organization desired to share its values with the uniforms, Silverman said, but wouldn’t force players to comply in the event that they were uncomfortable.
Yet by allowing the players to opt out of the promotion — and to make use of the platform to endorse an opposite viewpoint — the Rays undercut the message of inclusion they were attempting to send. Words like “lifestyle” and “behavior” are widely known tropes often interpreted as a polite cover for condemning gay culture.
The Rays held their promotion the day after the Dodgers had honored the memory of Glenn Burke, a former outfielder for the team who was the primary major leaguer to have come out as gay, on the team’s LGBTQ+ Pride Night in Los Angeles. The resistance of some players in St. Petersburg — despite the Rays’ best intentions — showed how far the movement still has to go.
“When people use their interpretation of faith to justify discrimination against people for the way in which they were born, it’s really an indictment of them and their faith,” said the writer Andrew Maraniss, who wrote a biography of Burke, who died in 1995, titled “Singled Out” that published last 12 months. “Acknowledging that individuals are people and all fans are welcome, that’s not something you must give you the option to opt out of.”
Players have some leeway with on-field style — the length of their pants, the angle of their caps, the colours of their arm sleeves, and so forth. But rarely are players given the selection of which cap and jersey they need to wear.
In 2016, when Chris Sale, a White Sox pitcher on the time, refused to pitch in a retro uniform the team was planning for his start — he said it was uncomfortable — he took scissors to the jerseys and destroyed them. The White Sox suspended him five games for insubordination and destruction of team equipment.
“While all of us appreciate Chris’ talent and fervour,” White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn said in an announcement then, “there may be an accurate way and an incorrect approach to express concerns about team rules and organizational expectations.”
While the situations will not be analogous, the last a part of Hahn’s statement seems to resonate here. By creating special uniforms for Pride Night, the Rays were expressing their beliefs as a company. As the first messengers for the franchise, the players must have been expected to reflect that position. If doing so made them uncomfortable, they might have been given the night off.
This mustn’t obscure the admirable track record on social issues by the Rays, who’ve celebrated Pride Night for 16 years. In 2015, the Rays were certainly one of three sports organizations — with the Giants and the N.F.L.’s Latest England Patriots — to sign an amicus temporary filed to the Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage. In 2016, after the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., the organization cut ticket prices for Pride Night and raised $300,000 for a victims’ fund.
Last month, the Rays joined with the Yankees to devote their social media feeds for one game entirely to facts about gun violence in the USA, relatively than any information concerning the game. The Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, was already planning to veto $35 million in state funds to assist the Rays construct a recent training center, but used the occasion to take a jab on the team.
“Corporations are free to have interaction or not engage in whatever discourse they need, but clearly it’s inappropriate to be doing tax dollars for skilled sports stadiums,” DeSantis said at a news conference last Friday. “It’s also inappropriate to subsidize political activism of a personal corporation.”
All of this may be exhausting for fans who would relatively take their sports without politics, yet an event like Pride Night should stand apart. It is supposed to be a collective show of unity, without judgment, yet some players were allowed to send a special message.
In any case — when you imagine in such things — karma got the last word on Saturday. The relievers within the standard-issue uniforms immediately gave up a two-run lead, sending the house team to defeat.