Among the Rays who declined the rainbow logos, according to the Tampa Bay Times, were pitchers Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, Brooks Raley, Jeffrey Springs and Ryan Thompson. While Raley and Beeks appeared in the game, a 3-2 loss to the visiting Chicago White Sox, Adam was given the opportunity to explain why he and others opted out.
“A lot of it comes down to faith, to like a faith-based decision,” said Adam, a 30-year-old in his fifth major league season. “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] encourage 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,” Adam continued. “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.”
The event at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg was timed to take place near the start of Pride Month. In a statement last week, President Biden said an “onslaught of dangerous anti-LGBTQI+ legislation has been introduced and passed in States across the country.”
The Rays’ home state made headlines earlier this year when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation referred to by some as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Parents “should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old,” DeSantis said in a statement.
Critics have said the Parental Rights in Education bill, which bans discussion of LGBTQ issues in classrooms for kindergarten through third grade and includes restrictions for older students, has intentionally vague language meant to marginalize, stigmatize and silence LGBTQ people.
Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who reportedly wore the rainbow-accented uniform Saturday, said after that game that the Pride Night event “shows that we want everyone to feel welcomed and included when you come to Tropicana Field.”
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“My parents taught me to love everyone as they are,” the 32-year-old Kiermaier said (via mlb.com). “Go live your life. Whatever your preferences are, go be you.”
Rays Manager Kevin Cash said Saturday that he “certainly” hoped for internal division had not emerged from a discussion about LGBTQ issues that had taken place among his players. The manager, in his eighth season with Tampa Bay, claimed his players had come to respect differing perspectives.
“First and foremost, I think the organization has done a really good thing to have Pride Nights supporting our gay community to come out and have a nice night at the ballpark,” Cash said (via the Associated Press). “Impressed that our players have had those conversations and we want to support our players that choose to wear or choose not to wear to the best of our capabilities.”
In an online exchange with media personality Keith Olbermann, who challenged Adam’s characterization of the teachings of Jesus, the pitcher tweeted: “I promise you my intention was never to shame anyone. My greatest desire is to love and live like Jesus every day.”
In addition to the special uniforms, the Rays marked Pride Night by giving away miniature pride flags and donating to a local inclusive health and wellness organization.
The franchise’s previous gestures have included becoming, in 2015, one of the first sports teams to sign an amicus brief with the Supreme Court that supported same-sex marriage and honoring victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando during its Pride Night in 2016.
“It’s an important night for our organization and an opportunity for us to emphasize inclusivity overall,” team president Matt Silverman said. “We lived as a community through the Pulse nightclub shooting and understand the importance of nights like this to signal to our fans and our community the open invitation to come enjoy baseball, and I know our overall message is of inclusivity.”
The team also recently spoke out on the issue of gun violence. In the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Tex., the Rays issued a statement last month saying “we cannot become numb” to such episodes and pledging to make a donation to a national gun violence prevention organization.
Several days later, DeSantis vetoed $35 million in a state spending plan that would have gone toward a youth sports complex touted as a possible future spring training site for the Rays. The governor, a gun-rights supporter, subsequently said he does not “support giving taxpayer dollars to professional sports stadiums” and that it is “also inappropriate to subsidize political activism of a private corporation.”