Make us your home page

Rays say move Tampa's Confederate monument, Lightning won't weigh in


The Tampa Bay Rays are in favor of removing a 106-year-old Confederate monument from its current location in downtown Tampa, the baseball team told the Tampa Bay Times on Friday.

It's a stance that Hillsborough County officials will be forced to consider, as it's no secret many of them want to see the Rays move to Tampa.

Responding to a Times inquiry, the Rays organization said in a statement that the team has "long supported and are committed to diversity and inclusion."

"We understand and believe that these decisions belong in the hands of elected officials," the statement said. "At the same time, we are supportive of its removal from the courthouse."

An effort to remove the Confederate statue, called Memoria in Aeterna, was defeated by one vote last month by the Hillsborough County Commission. But Commissioner Les Miller said he will bring it up again at the July 19 meeting, and at least one of the prevailing commissioners is now open to moving the statue.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning declined to weigh in on the controversy. The hockey team plays in Amalie Arena, within walking distance of the monument.

"We believe this important decision should rest with the county commissioners that have been elected to represent us and our county," the Lightning organization said in a statement. "We trust these officials to carefully study all considerations necessary as they make their decisions, trusting them to govern Hillsborough County in the best interest of all its people."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers front office is closed this week and a spokesman was not available.

In its statement to the Times, the Rays noted that principal owner Stuart Sternberg "serves as chair of Major League Baseball's Diversity Committee and every season, we honor outstanding achievement in the African American community through our Jackie Robinson: Breaking Barriers celebration."

As one of the most recognizable businesses and brands in the Tampa Bay area, the Rays bring a prominent voice to the removal cause.

But the organization's clout may extend beyond symbolism. The Rays are actively weighing a move from St. Petersburg to Tampa and leaders there have coveted a ball club since before Major League Baseball even awarded the region an expansion team.

Among the front office's criteria for a new ballpark site are "iconic elements that positively impact the ballpark brand, the brand of the team and the image of the region."

Where it stands, the controversial Confederate monument is within a mile of some potential Tampa ballpark locations, including the area in and around Ybor City.

The most active recruiter of the Rays on the County Commission is Ken Hagan, who voted against removing the monument last month. However, he has been otherwise silent on the matter, choosing not to speak during debate before the vote. Hagan did not respond to a phone call Friday morning.

As large businesses with passionate followings, professional sports teams and leagues can carry considerable sway when they venture into social and political debates.

After the NCAA pulled postseason college basketball games from North Carolina, the state's legislature changed a law that banned transgender individuals from using a bathroom other than one for their assigned sex at birth.

The National Football League said it may not hold future Super Bowls in Texas if the state passed a bill similar to the North Carolina law. It made the same threat to Georgia in 2016 before the governor vetoed a bill that allowed businesses to turn away LGBT customers and employees for religious reasons.

"NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and any other improper standard," the league said in the statement before the Georgia decision. "Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites."

NFL owners recently awarded the 2021 Super Bowl to Tampa's Raymond James Stadium. League spokesman Brian McCarthy declined to comment on the Confederate memorial debate.

The NCAA, which will hold postseason events in Tampa for track and women's basketball in coming years, did not respond to a request for comment.

Nor did the NHL about the 2018 All-Star Game slated for Tampa's Amalie Arena.

Erected in 1911, the Confederate monument features two soldiers — one heading north to battle, and another, facing south, uniform tattered. Between them is a marble obelisk that bears the rebel flag. It was moved to its current location in 1932, outside what is now the old county courthouse, an office building that also holds traffic court and conducts weddings.

It is the oldest statue in Tampa and its unveiling drew 5,000 when the city was still a small port town.

At the monument's dedication, 50 years after the start of the Civil War, the keynote speaker called African-Americans an "ignorant and inferior race."

Since the vote against removal, County Commissioner Victor Crist said he would consider moving the monument to Oaklawn Cemetery, the city's oldest public burial ground and the final resting place for the city's earliest pioneers, Confederate soldiers and slaves.

That would require the approval of city leaders, and both Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Council member Frank Reddick are against the idea.

Contact Steve Contorno at Follow @scontorno.

Rays say move Tampa's Confederate monument, Lightning won't weigh in 07/07/17 [Last modified: Saturday, July 8, 2017 12:52am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  2. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members


    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]
  3. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion


    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  4. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]
  5. Trigaux: Tampa Bay health care leaders wary of getting too far ahead in disruptive times


    Are attempts to repeal Obamacare dead for the foreseeable future? Might the Affordable Care Act (ACA), now in dire limbo, be revived? Will Medicaid coverage for the most in need be gutted? Can Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and House ever agree to deliver a substitute health care plan that people …

    Natalia Ricabal of Lutz, 12 years old, joined other pediatric cancer patients in Washington in July to urge Congress to protect Medicaid coverage that helped patients like Ricabal fight cancer. She was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in 2013 and has undergone extensive treatments at BayCare's St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa. [Courtesy of BayCare]