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Talking tolerance: One more reason to like the Rays

Did we even need another reason to like the Rays?

This month Tampa Bay players join a handful of other major leaguers in making a public service message for a good cause.

So you're saying: And? Celebrities, politicians and sports figures make PSAs all the time. Can't turn around without one of them asking for empathy, money or support for disaster relief, disease or other worthy causes.

But when the Rays make a video before their Aug. 23 game against the Detroit Tigers (with a little help from fans in Section 134), this will be different, different being the point.

The campaign is called "It Gets Better," and it aims to assure gay and lesbian teens who face bullying and bigotry that no matter how bleak the moment seems it really will get better. It's a creative push to counter loneliness, isolation, depression and suicide.

On itgetsbetter.org are thousands of videos by organizations and individuals famous and ordinary, some talking personal experience with bullies, others assuring teens the world gets bigger and more accepting. Threaded through is the message that bullying is not to be tolerated.

But amongst your TV actors and John Kerrys, you might be surprised to see a Seattle Mariner or a Baltimore Oriole.

"It's okay to be your own unique being," says Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek on a video.

"Don't be scared," says his teammate, third baseman Kevin Youkilis. "A lot of people go and get therapy, myself included." And, wow — not just empathy, but a star athlete admitting he's needed help, too.

Gay people on the videos telling their own stories are one kind of powerful, famous people are another. Professional athletes in the mix are something else.

Because we're talking macho. We're talking athletes speaking directly to a kid who might think this existence, this miserable time, is all there will ever be. We're talking kids whose tormentors may be jocks themselves.

And the message that being a jerk is not okay is in there for the ones doing the bullying. When bullies are jocks, imagine how it sounds coming from not teachers or guidance counselors but the very stars they admire and maybe even hope to become.

Later this month, some of our own Rays — Johnny Damon, Sam Fuld, B.J. Upton, Sean Rodriguez and manager Joe Maddon — add their voices and video. (Side note: Since I am apparently the only person in town never lucky enough to run into Maddon at Publix or on Bayshore, could somebody please ask him to go back to his sharp, short haircut for the video, for the good of us all? Thanks.)

With news of the Rays' participation in this effort, one reader on the web opined the team should stay out of "contentious political issues," though it's hard for me to fathom what's contentious or political in giving a kid a reason to hang on.

In some corners, we have come a long way from the days when schools treated what went on between students like they were inmates in a prison yard, left to work it out for themselves. You hear about zero tolerance for bullying, but it thrives.

The Rays have long been good guys and solid citizens around here (around here being a place we'd like them to stay, by the way). That they saw the value in this is one more reason to like them, not that we needed another.

Talking tolerance: One more reason to like the Rays 08/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 13, 2011 1:21pm]

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