Homosexuality always has been a taboo topic in the locker room of professional sports. So the Tampa Bay Rays, led by manager Joe Maddon, are to be applauded for joining the "It Gets Better" nationwide campaign to provide hope and comfort to teens victimized by anti-gay bullying. Just as significantly, the Rays participation sends a message to all their fans that bullying is not okay.
The Rays will be the ninth Major League Baseball team to record a public service message to decry the bullying of gay youths and to encourage teens to seek out counseling and support if they feel threatened. Joining Maddon in the Rays video will be players Johnny Damon, Sam Fuld, B.J. Upton and Sean Rodriguez. It will be posted on itgetsbetter.org, a website created by Seattle activist Dan Savage following a spate of bullying-related suicides.
The San Francisco Giants were the first MLB team to sign on, followed by others, such as the Rays' American League East nemesis, the Boston Red Sox. The Sox submission includes an impressive admission by third baseman Kevin Youkilis that he has sought out therapy. The MLB teams join more than 10,000 videos, including submissions by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a host of celebrities. To date, the site has attracted 35 million page views.
Given the outsized influence professional sports has in American culture, the Rays participation is heartening. Too often, professional athletes receive publicity off the field because they're not being good role models. But this video is the inverse, using the team's exalted status for good, to promote tolerance and understanding. Regardless what happens on the field this season, Maddon and the rest of the Rays could make a big difference off the field for Tampa Bay's youths.