For my money, some of the very best writing we’ve seen on this website over the past few years has been in Grace Carbone’s reviews of Citi Field’s Pride Nights. Reading her article last year, I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face seeing how the events of that night helped to make her and others in the LGBTQ+ community feel welcome in a sport that has not always been particularly welcoming. Reading her more recent article made me happy that, while other franchises have been mired in controversies over their attempts to celebrate Pride Night, the Mets seemingly managed to hold theirs without a hitch and once again made it a fun and inclusive environment.
As someone who’s not a part of that community, I can’t offer the kind of personal insights that Grace did about the meaning of these evenings. And how easy it would be for me to simply smile at her article, happy that she and others got to have their night of fun, and then move on with my own business. But therein, I think, lies the problem that exists in baseball right now: the belief that “my business” is separate from that of Grace’s, that Pride Night—and by extension, the fight for the LGBTQ+ community’s right to exist in this space—is her cause, her battle, and not mine.
Recent events, however, have proven that this is not the case. They have proven why it is still important for the Mets and other organizations to continue and expand their embrace of Pride Night. And they have proven why all of us—straight, gay, or anything and everything in-between—have an obligation to care and engage with this issue, lest the culture of silent intolerance continue to be perpetuated amidst the game for more generations to come.
It’s been good to see Mark Canha openly and loudly embrace Pride Month, just as he did last year. It was also heartening to see numerous other Mets show some level of support through either their adornment of Pride shirts or their participation in a celebratory video for the ballpark. Still, as is often the case, the majority of players remain largely silent on the matters. This is not to say that we must shove a microphone in every single player’s face and ask them to provide a thorough explanation of their stances on gay rights issues. But we must ask: why is Canha so unique—not just on the Mets, but in all of baseball—in the extent to which he expresses his support for the gay community? We know that anti-Pride voices such as that of Brooks Raley exist on the team. Those voices may indeed be the dominant ones in the Mets clubhouse, so perhaps that is the easy answer to the question posed above.
Still, call me an optimist, but I can’t accept the notion that Canha is the only one on the team who is a strong believer in equality and acceptance. Yet most players choose, at best, a muted level of support, and more likely outright neutrality and silence, rather than upsetting the status quo by speaking out more vocally and potentially alienating their teammates. Let someone else address this issue, the reasoning goes. It’s not my battle.
And this is not just an issue with the players, to be clear. What of the media’s role in perpetuating this silence? I didn’t hear the SNY booth spend much time discussing Pride Night on Friday’s broadcast—despite plenty of shots of the crowd rocking their rainbow apparel. Acknowledging the occasion, of course, would open up the potential for a larger discussion on the recent Pride Night controversies around baseball—and I’m guessing hearing Keith Hernandez’s thoughts on the subject might cause one’s blood to boil. So once again, they—like plenty of other members of the media—decided that it’s better to stay quiet on the matter and let others engage with the discussion. It’s not my battle.
And what is the result of all this silence and all this neutrality? It is 2023. Gay marriage has been legal for almost a decade. And yet we still have yet to see an openly queer active major league baseball player—despite the statistical certainty that these players have existed and continue to exist. This simple fact should shame everyone involved with the game, because it speaks to the environment that has been cultivated here. After all, why would a player come out of the closet when several of their teammates are engaged in open protests regarding their team’s attempts to hold Pride Night? How exactly can a player expect to be embraced in such a culture? And that is before we get into the concern of how fans may respond to them. Certainly, the anti-LGBTQ+ voices in our society have become louder and louder in recent years, and any player who comes out runs the risk of drawing the public ire of these voices.
I do want to be clear: this is not just some bleeding-heart-liberal plea in favor of tolerance for the sake of tolerance. There are tangible reasons why being more openly pro-LGBTQ+ would be good for the league. For a game that has been trying desperately to attract a wider and younger audience, continuing to quietly support viewpoints that are in direct contrast with what the vast majority of younger generations believe is hardly a sustainable long-term strategy. I also can’t help but think about young queer kids who may be interested in pursuing baseball, but decline to do so due to the knowledge that such a path would force them to reject or hide a fundamental part of who they are. And as for the queer players who do exist who are hiding in the closet—well, we’ve seen more and more discussion in recent years of how mental health can impact a player’s on-the-field play. Living a closeted life and being in constant fear of discovery seems to me like it would be the sort of thing that would weigh heavily on a person’s soul, and who’s to say that couldn’t be a contributing factor behind some struggling player’s performance?
All of these points should be pushing the league closer and closer to a more complete embrace of LGBTQ+ rights. But instead, it’s largely been two steps forward, one step back. And for his part, Commissioner Rob Manfred has made it clear that his position, and by extension the position of the league, is largely one of neutrality: “We have told teams, in terms of actual uniforms, hats, bases that we don’t think putting logos on them is a good idea just because of the desire to protect players,” Manfred said recently. He went on to explain that teams should decide for themselves whether or not having a Pride Night would be appropriate for their particular market.
This, to put it simply, is gutless cowardice. If you think otherwise, just imagine the same exact type of statement being made eighty years ago about teams having the right to reject integrated baseball teams because they don’t believe the particular market would be accepting enough. And what, one must ask, are the players being “protected” from, exactly? Having to explain their bigoted viewpoints and receiving justified pushback for it? Heaven forbid they actually be compelled to consider why their views receive such criticism and engage in some actual self-examination.
Perhaps many of these players would reject this categorization of their viewpoints as bigotry—perhaps they would suggest, as Blake Treinen did in his recent public statement, that they simply wish to avoid openly discussing “political” issues. Yet once again, implicit in this justification is the suggestion that the acknowledgment of LGBTQ+ lives is “political”—that the members of this community themselves are “political” beings first and foremost. That, I am sorry to say, is bigotry, plain and simple. You either recognize the inherent humanity of LGBTQ+ people or you don’t—and Manfred has made it clear that this is an optional thing in his league. Thus, people like Treinen will continue to operate in relative comfort and continue to be a barrier for the game to ever achieve true inclusion while justifying their intolerance with pleas of their faith.
Still, while there are more Treinens than Canhas out there, the majority of people in baseball still choose to take the silent approach. Well, again, this reasoning is not good enough—not for the players, not for the media, and not for us as fans. To quote the late Elie Wiesel: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Manfred and others in the league, if not the outright picture of neutrality, are certainly guilty of wanting to have their cake and eat it, too: supporting Pride Night to the extent that they can without receiving any meaningful pushback for it, and without taking any of the more active steps to live up to their empty pledges that baseball is a game for everyone. And many fans—even the ones who are not outright hostile to LGBTQ+ rights—are also unwilling to call teams, players, and media members to task for their complicity in allowing this status quo to continue.
I appreciate Flushing is Burning—Grace’s new podcast which she hosts with Christian Romo—for much the same reason why I appreciate A Pod of Their Own: both shows and their respective hosts demonstrate a genuine love for baseball, but they also insist that this game can and must be better. We all must be better. So for the Mets, that means continuing to embrace Pride Night as they have done in past years—and figuring out ways they can go even further in supporting the LGBTQ+ community. For sympathetic players, it means taking a page from Canha’s books and being more proactive in expressing their own support—even if it risks alienating some of their teammates. For the media, it means engaging with this conversation and asking the questions that all too often aren’t asked.
And for the rest of us who love this game and this community? It means understanding that, regardless of your sexuality, this is your battle. And you can fight that battle in your own way—not everybody needs to be taking to the streets to fight for their cause—but you can’t ignore it altogether. If baseball truly is for everyone, then we must continually take active steps to make it for everyone. We have all failed thus far. But the battle must go on.