ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays’ organizational philosophy toward equality and inclusiveness extends toward the LGBTQ+ community, as evidenced by Saturday’s 16th Pride Night celebration at Tropicana Field.
“Our Pride Nights continue to grow both in terms of visibility and participation,” Rays president Matt Silverman said. “By doing this, we extend an invitation not just for this game but for all of our games that the LGBTQ+ community is invited, welcomed and celebrated.”
In an effort to make their commitment more visible, the Rays this year decided to follow the lead of the Giants and add rainbow-colored logos to their Pride Night uniforms, to the “TB” on their caps and a sunburst on their right jersey sleeves.
In doing so, the team learned that not all players wanted to be included. No exact breakdown was provided, but well more than half the players appeared to participate. Pitchers Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, Brooks Raley, Jeffrey Springs and Ryan Thompson were among those who did not, electing to peel off the burst logo and wear the standard hat.
Adam, chosen by team officials to speak for the players who opted out, said it was primarily a matter of religious beliefs and not wanting to encourage the “behavior” of those in the LGBTQ+ community.
“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 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. It’s no different.
“It’s not judgmental. It’s not looking down. It’s just what we believe the lifestyle he’s encouraged us to live, for our good, not to withhold. But again, we love these men and women, we care about them, and we want them to feel safe and welcome here.”
Rays officials would have preferred full participation but also felt it was important to give players and staff the choice, viewing it — somewhat semantically — as an “opt-in” exercise.
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
The topic sparked numerous conversations — team-wide, small-group and individual — over the last several weeks. Players on both sides and management said they were constructive and did not create any division.
“I certainly hope not,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I think what it has created is, like, what you’ve heard — a lot of conversation and valuing the different perspectives inside the clubhouse but really appreciating the community that we’re trying to support here.”
Veteran outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who wore the cap and burst logo, said inclusivity was an important element to him.
“It’s one of those things, my parents taught me to love everyone as they are, go live your life, whatever your preferences are, go be you,” Kiermaier said. “I can’t speak for everyone who’s in here, obviously, but this is a family-friendly environment here at a big-league ball field. … We just want everyone to feel welcomed and included and cheer us on. No matter what your views on anything are.”
The Rays have backed LGBTQ+ efforts in several ways, including being the first pro sports team to sign an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting same-sex marriage and joining the “It Gets Better” campaign to fight youth bullying.
On Saturday, the Rays included members of the LGBTQ+ community in pregame events, gave out mini pride flags to the announced crowd of 19,452, offered a special ticket package that included a Chad Mize-designed hat and made a $20,000 donation to Metro Inclusive Health, which provides diverse health and wellness services to the community.
A rainbow-colored burst has been on the back wall of the stadium all year.
The team supports numerous other causes, such as racial equality, anti-gun violence, military families, autism awareness and mental health issues, particularly for law enforcement personnel.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.
• • •
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.