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Tampa Bay Rays players' decision not to wear Pride jerseys stirs up fans

The Tampa Bay Rays' logo got a rainbow makeover to celebrate Pride, which most players sported at a game against the Chicago White Sox at Tropicana Field on June 4.
Julio Aguilar
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Getty Images
The Tampa Bay Rays' logo got a rainbow makeover to celebrate Pride, which most players sported at a game against the Chicago White Sox at Tropicana Field on June 4.

It was supposed to be a show of unity in support of the LGBTQ+ community. For Pride Night at Tropicana Field, the Tampa Bay Rays wore special jerseys and caps sporting the rainbow-colored logo.

"Nearly every Tampa Bay player who took the field against the White Sox in the first inning did so with a rainbow-colored sunburst logo patch on his right arm and a rainbow-colored "TB" logo on his cap," Adam Berry reported for MLB.com.

But five Rays pitchers opted out. Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, Brooks Raley, Jeffrey Springs and Ryan Thompson "peeled off" the logo and wore the team's standard cap, according to Tampa Bay Times writer Marc Topkin.

Adam told Topkin that, while they respected the team's decision to show its support of the LGBTQ+ community, they opted out for religious reasons.

"A lot of it comes down to faith, to like a faith-based decision," Adam said. "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, he continued, "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."

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brooks Raley opted to not wear rainbow logos during Pride Night at Tropicana Field on June 4, alongside several of his teammates.
Chris O'Meara / AP
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AP
Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brooks Raley opted to not wear rainbow logos during Pride Night at Tropicana Field on June 4, alongside several of his teammates.

Florida resident and self-described "avid Rays fan" Matt LaBarge says Adams' remarks were disappointing

"By using the word 'behavior,' it's implying that it's a choice. That's the talk of marginalization and I couldn't agree with that," LaBarge tells NPR.

LaBarge was one of a number of commenters in a feisty thread on the Rays' Facebook page. The team posted photos of people wearing t-shirts decorated with LGBTQ pride flags, rainbow colors and the words "Baseball is for Everyone." Commenters railed against the team for being too political or "woke." Some said they would no longer attend games. Others applauded the Rays for promoting inclusivity.

Saturday marked the Tampa Bay Rays' 16th annual Pride Night. LaBarge believes giving players the choice to opt out "became a distraction this year," because it "took attention away from what gay pride is, or just pride in general, and refocused things on the team."

The Rays' Pride efforts came on the heels of another political moment for the team. Echoing Disney's political woes in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis recently vetoed $35 million in funding for a sports complex that would've been used by the Rays as a spring training facility. DeSantis blocked the funding shortly after the team denounced gun violence following the mass shooting in Uvalde, TX that killed 21 people. The Rays also made a $50,000 donation to Everytown for Gun Safety.

A week later, DeSantis said he didn't believe tax dollars should pay for professional sports stadiums. He also said that it was "inappropriate to subsidize political activism of a private corporation."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.