On ‘Pride Night,’ Rays of Hope in Tampa Bay

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After 16 years of Pride Nights, the Tampa Bay Rays probably took their players’ support for granted. Not anymore.

Heading into this past Saturday’s game, when the team was supposed to sport rainbow logos, a group of players decided to wear something else on their sleeves: their convictions.

The Rays lost the game, but that’s not what reporters were writing about later. In a month when even the bases are rainbow props, the idea that any player — let alone several — would refuse to play along was a shock to the pro sports’ system. But to pitchers Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, Brooks Raley, Jeffrey Springs, and Ryan Thompson, there are things worth taking a public stand for — and their relationship with Jesus tops the list.

Adam, who acted as the unofficial spokesman of the pushback, told the media later that the decision “comes down to faith.”

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“So, it’s a hard decision,” Adam admitted, “because ultimately, we all said what we want is [for everyone] to know that all are welcome and loved here.” But, at the end of the day, he pointed out, the Rays were asking for too much by asking players to literally advertise for the cause on their uniforms.

When we put it on our bodies, I think a lot of guys decided that it’s just a lifestyle that — 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.

Nothing about their refusal was meant to be disrespectful, Adam said. “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.”

Although the five pitchers got the most attention, the Tampa Bay Times pointed out that the group had plenty of company.

When the Rays decided to adapt their uniforms to show even the transgender flag’s colors, “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.” On a roster of almost 30, it seems others followed Adam’s lead, much to management’s surprise.

According to The Times, “Rays officials would have preferred full participation — but also felt it was important to give players and staff the choice … .” That in itself is a major shift from recent years, when players’ allegiance to the league’s radical causes was expected. Rays manager Kevin Cash seemed intent to strike a new balance in his comments, applauding the organization for hosting Pride Nights, but also insisting that different perspectives are healthy.

“… [W]e want to support our players that choose to wear or choose not to wear to the best of our capabilities,” he said.

While St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty called the decision to reject the league’s extremism an “absolute joke,” most of the outrage over the players’ decision has been confined to a handful of editorial pages, where LGBT water-carriers like the New York Times’s Tyler Kepner refused to see tolerance as anything but a one-way street.

“[B]y allowing the players to opt out of the promotion — and to use the platform to endorse an opposite viewpoint — the Rays undercut the message of inclusion they were trying to send.”

Then, incredibly, Kepner makes the argument that free speech has no place in professional sports. “By creating special uniforms for Pride Night, the Rays were expressing their beliefs as an organization. As the primary messengers for the franchise, the players should have been expected to reflect that position. If doing so made them uncomfortable, they could have been given the night off.”

In other words, this isn’t about celebrating pride. It’s about demanding conformity. Bench your beliefs, or we’ll bench you.

Unfortunately for the far left, that message hasn’t performed too well in the Rays’ home state, where leaders are so sick of the left’s sexual orthodoxy that they’ve torn up a 55-year agreement with one of America’s biggest brands: Disney. Then, last Friday, the leader of America’s corporate resistance, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, sent another shot across the bow by vetoing a multimillion funding bill for the Rays’ new stadium.

Several people speculated that DeSantis’ move was driven by his frustration over the franchise’s gun control rants on social media. Was it more payback for politically woke businesses — or a financial decision for the good of taxpayers?

On Friday, the governor answered those questions, saying, “Companies are free to engage or not engage in whatever discourse they want, but clearly it’s inappropriate to be doing tax dollars for professional sports stadiums. It’s also inappropriate to subsidize political activism of a private corporation.”

In other words, if the Rays want to go to bat for leftist policies, that’s their right. But it’s also the state of Florida’s right to refuse to pay for it.

Either way, DeSantis’ courage is certainly having an impact on the national conversation over cultural issues — namely, that there is one.

The fact that more stars feel comfortable standing up for their beliefs is a direct result of the men and women in power who have had the courage to do the same. For once, conservatives like the Florida governor are creating a climate where it’s not just the beliefs out of left field that are encouraged — but everyone’s. 

This column first appeared at The Washington Stand.

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.


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