There's nothing complicated about those Rays players' bigotry

June 6, 2022

When I played high school baseball in the late 1990s, there was a guy on the team who said, without irony, that he had no problem with gay people but that he did not appreciate them shoving their gayness in his face. There was rampant homophobia at my school so this conversation would have been unremarkable except that several other guys on the team pushed back and asked him what, precisely, he meant by that. Was he really asking people to not be themselves? What if someone suggested he not shove his straightness in everyone else’s face?

We didn’t get anywhere with him, but I thought about that day when I read that several Tampa Bay Rays had refused to wear Pride-themed patches and caps.

Jason Adam was called upon from among the group to explain their thinking, and it’s worth reading his quote in full:

“A lot of it comes down to faith, to like a faith-based decision. So it’s a hard decision. Because ultimately we all said what we want is them to know that all are welcome and loved here. But when we put it on our bodies, I think a lot of guys decided that it’s just a lifestyle that maybe — not that they look down on anybody or think differently — it’s just that maybe we don’t want to encourage it if we believe in Jesus, who’s encouraged us to live a lifestyle that would abstain from that behavior, just like (Jesus) encourages me as a heterosexual male to abstain from sex outside of the confines of marriage. It’s no different.

“It’s not judgmental. It’s not looking down. It’s just what we believe the lifestyle he’s encouraged us to live, for our good, not to withhold. But again, we love these men and women, we care about them, and we want them to feel safe and welcome here.”

We don’t need to dig into the “lifestyle” bit, which most people correctly understand to be a euphemism for “you disgust me.” All we need to do is note that this statement is internally inconsistent. Adam says he wants LGBTQ+ people to “feel safe and welcome” and yet he and some of his teammates refused to wear the symbol communicating that LGBTQ+ people are safe and welcome in their community. They understand that many people will think less of them for taking the position that gay and queer people disgust them so much that they refuse to wear a cap expressing support for their right to exist as gay and queer people, so they came up with a nonsensical statement about how their religious beliefs hold that people should not have homosexual sex such that they are uncomfortable showing public support for gay and queer people, yet after their public display of opposition they also made sure to issue a statement saying gay and queer people are welcome and safe around them.

Got all that?

This is reminiscent of soccer player Jaelene Hinkle (now Jaelene Daniels) refusing a call-up to the United States Women’s National Team rather than wear a Pride jersey; it’s hardly a unique issue. What the Rays player and the women’s soccer player have in common is that they wish to remain in the good graces of polite society while expressing deeply ugly sentiments.

Perhaps, in other contexts, Jason Adam is straightforward that gay and queer people disgust him. Perhaps he doesn’t think of his bigotry that way. But refusing to wear Pride logos in these situations serves no purpose, and has no intended effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gay and queer people. These guys don’t want to be thought of that way, but there’s no other rational interpretation of their actions, and they deserve all the opprobrium due common bigots.

Update 6/7/22: Bill Baer is correct that MLB Pride Nights are largely performative rainbow capitalism. Rainbow caps don't mean much if many of your other actions support a politics of exclusion and oppression.

(Photo: "MarriageEqualityRally142.SupremeCourt.WDC.26March2013" by Elvert Barnes. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.)