When Major League Baseball teams announce that they are hosting Pride Nights, events designed to show solidarity with the local LGBT community, backlash is inevitable. Fans threatening to boycott the game. Sophomoric jokes which serve no purpose but to reveal the immaturity of those telling them. Replies on social media that the night is unnecessary. And on a rare occasion that the St. Louis Cardinals’ Twitter account has alluded to the LGBT community, it was flooded with angry responses.
If the St. Louis Cardinals were to announce some form of LGBT Pride Night, which over half of the teams in MLB intend to do in 2017, there would be backlash. Some fans would complain. I’m not sure that this total would be materially higher or lower than fans of other teams who have held such nights, but because St. Louis has become something of a punching bag, categorized as a uniquely discriminatory place, it would likely be magnified (that these supposed LGBT allies would take any level of joy in witnessing homophobia is a confounding bit of hypocrisy, but that’s a separate discussion).
But to dismiss such an event due to potentially poor optics is to pretend that the main problem with homophobia is that it can be used to make straight people feel bad. The St. Louis Cardinals should have an LGBT Pride Night at Busch Stadium.
Busch Stadium will be selling thirty-seven different “theme night” tickets from now through the end of the season; this total is not even counting the special giveaways which have already occurred in 2017, nor is it counting the numerous outright giveaway days on the calendar. While such a large volume of these days may seem a bit overwhelming, each has some value to some people, and ultimately the events are not intrusive to fans disinterested in the theme—while Busch Stadium’s annual Christian Day is occasionally cited as superfluous, the associated events occur after the actual game, while during game action, it is business as usual at the stadium.
Unlike theme nights, however, which target such demographics as Jimmy Buffett fans or whoever it is that wants a Cardinals Nutcracker, LGBT Pride Night would allow the Cardinals to send an important message to young gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans fans that they are valued members of a larger community, and that they are accepted and loved for who they are. Young LGBT people are subject to increased risk of bullying, sexual violence, and depression, and a t-shirt isn’t going to solve those problems, but beginning to establish a culture of openness and inclusion would be a sign that the St. Louis Cardinals take these issues seriously.
Last week, Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar was suspended for two games after using a homophobic slur during a game. He apologized for the incident, and in a world of “sorry for offending you” half-apologies, it was a decent one. Whether or not Pillar is actually homophobic, however, is not the point—the point is that Pillar exists in a sports culture in which casual levels of homophobia are allowed to exist. Using homosexuality as a proxy for weakness is commonplace. A boys-will-be-boys attitude dominates professional baseball, treating players as permanently juvenile and incapable of evolving as people. Baseball culture has only recently begun to condemn actions such as those of Pillar. In the Cardinals organization, far more egregious examples of homophobia have occurred in recent history.
In March 2016, former Cardinals minor league pitcher Tyler Dunnington, in communication with Cyd Zeigler of Outsports, recalled that while he played, as a gay man not yet out, he was subjected to a hostile environment which ranged from homophobic slurs similar to ones said by Pillar, to teammates discussing ways in which to kill gay people.
John Mozeliak said at the time that the Cardinals organization took Dunnington’s statements “very seriously” and that the matter was being investigated. But in the fourteen months since the story broke, the Cardinals have not issued public statements on the matter. The Cardinals’ Twitter account has alluded to Dunnington twice—once when he was drafted, and once more when he signed three days later.
If indeed the Cardinals did respond with an appropriate level of indignation about what Dunnington had revealed, it was done internally. And if internal steps were taken to stop such incidents in the future, that’s great. But the Cardinals need to unreservedly and publicly show that they are on the side of the LGBT community rather than on the side of those who have marginalized and intimidated the LGBT community.
On January 19 of this year, the St. Louis Blues held their first-ever Pride Night at Scottrade Center. And while it wasn’t without some opposition, the event was overwhelmingly successful. The Blues recognized that as a local institution which unites people across a wide range of demographics, they have the power to lead the charge against homophobia. And the Cardinals, a ubiquitous part of St. Louis culture, have the potential to be more than just a baseball team that people like—they can be a significant force for societal good.