ST. PETERSBURG — Like other teams in ballparks and arenas across the nation, the Rays and Yankees mourned the victims of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y., with a moment of silence on Thursday.
And when the moment had passed, both teams vowed to be silent no more.
In a hope-filled collaboration for a sometimes-bitter rivalry, the Rays and Yankees agreed to skip their usual game coverage on social media platforms Thursday night and instead raise awareness with research-heavy posts on the toll of gun violence in America.
You could say it was stirring, and you could argue it was bold.
Rays team president Matt Silverman said, instead, it was necessary.
“One of the few things we all agree on is that these tragedies have to end,” Silverman said. “We’re not talking about solutions, we’re not talking about how that can happen. We’re just raising awareness.
“We can’t be numb to all of these tragedies. And maybe, in continuing the conversation, it helps lead to solutions down the road. But we feel an obligation to speak, to use our voice in these matters in a way that’s hopefully productive and will lead to better outcomes.”
To that end, the Rays released a brief and unambiguous statement. A total of 170 words to express sorrow and respectful determination in the wake of tragedy.
“This cannot become normal,” it said, in part. “We cannot look the other way.”
The Rays released the statement on social media at 6:23 p.m. Thursday.
The pushback began seven minutes later.
“F--k off, Rays,” wrote one Twitter user.
The vitriol was expected. By now, in a highly divisive world, we’re practically conditioned for that.
What was heartening was the overwhelming number of positive responses. Between the Yankees and Rays Twitter accounts, the teams’ respective statements had been retweeted 25,000 times and had been “liked” by more than 100,000 users within a couple of hours.
“We are so pleased to collaborate with the Rays,” said Yankees vice president of communications Jason Zillo. “Clearly, there are things that are bigger than baseball. For one night, to take a platform that’s usually designed for baseball statistics and use that for statistics that have much more weight is something that we firmly stand behind.”
This was not totally out of character for the Rays. They spoke out after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016 and following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in 2020.
What was different was the swiftness and forcefulness of the team’s statement Thursday night. While the club did not expressly call for gun-control measures, it donated $50,000 to Everytown For Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun laws.
Silverman said conversations in the Rays’ offices on Wednesday morning were likely no different than discussions around the country as the world coped with the reality of 19 children and two teachers senselessly murdered.
“That’s where it starts, with office conversations and that feeling of helplessness,” Silverman said. “Trying to find a way to do something, even small, because we just can’t sit by. Those conversations led to this idea of using our Twitter feed during the game to amplify facts about gun violence in our country.
Want more than just the box score?
Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“We asked the Yankees to join us, and they were quick to say yes. Having both teams do this together will reach a much greater audience and hopefully spur an even greater conversation. We don’t have answers, but we’re trying to do something to be helpful.”
While the Rays were careful to appear apolitical in their statement and subsequent tweets highlighting gun-violence statistics, there will be those who say — not undeservedly — that the team has made it clear where it stands. Others will certainly attack the Rays for not taking a more direct stand.
Silverman seemed resigned to the idea that the team had invited criticism with its choice to go public. In some ways, it is exactly what they were hoping to accomplish.
The idea that a Major League Baseball team would be willing to alienate potential ticket buyers and television viewers by drawing attention to itself is a small price for jump-starting important conversations.
“We try to use our voice for issues that we think are important to our community,” Silverman said. “There’s always a risk with that, but there’s also a risk of inaction. And we believe it’s the right thing to do to speak out to raise awareness and be a part of the conversation.”
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.