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WITHOUT A SOCIAL COMPASS, SPORTS SHOULD STOP HOSTING PRIDE NIGHTS
The Los Angeles Dodgers were proud pioneers until giving a Community Heroes Award to a satirical drag troupe that dresses as nuns, prompting chaos that should make leagues rethink inclusion events
The world is too messy for sports teams to play God. They think they can bring together disparate groups in stadiums and arenas — and generate more heaps of money than they already do — by embracing a boiling societal melting pot and casually making decisions about consequential events such as LGBTQ+ Pride Night.
If they dive headlong into the complicated cultural reverberations of a 2023 world, they first must understand this is not a Bobblehead giveaway. Or Friday Night Fireworks or Taco Tuesday. Or letting a few kids run the bases. They must plan these landmark gatherings with even more diligence and caution than they would in applying corporate-level brainpower to roster construction and traditional franchise business.
And if they don’t? They create a firestorm of chaos with their self-inflicted ignorance. They don’t realize why giving a Community Heroes Award to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence would incense conservative Catholics and headline-hunting politicos, a barrage that could have been avoided with more research and organizational introspection. I’m not sure what the Los Angeles Dodgers thought would happen when honoring a satirical drag troupe self-described as a “leading-edge order of queer and trans nuns,” all in the name of using “humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.” Did the Dodgers not realize other groups, including segments of their fan base, would take umbrage at drag performers dressed as nuns? Or should these sports guys never be entrusted with matters on a higher intellectual plane than whether to get rid of Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner? Pride Night is not something figured out by an algorithm.
They meant well, I assume. But they didn’t consider the fallout, which has been relentless all week. The Dodgers and Major League Baseball were pummeled by, among others, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and a Catholic priest with a large social media following. In turn, the Dodgers buckled to the anger and disinvited the LGBTQIA+ group, which prompted the Sisters to express “their deep offense and outrage” and write, “The Dodgers capitulated in response to hateful and misleading information from people outside the community.” Other offended organizations, such as LA Pride and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, pulled out of Pride Night and told the Dodgers what they could do with their inclusion and diversity.
By Friday, the team was considering a compromise for the June 16 date, concerned the event’s future is in jeopardy. Evidently incapable of handling the delicate nature of hosting something larger than a ballgame, the Dodgers are better off ducking away from this and future Pride Nights while sticking to something they’re better equipped to handle: the National League pennant race. They tried. They didn’t do enough homework or talk enough about the potential for aggrieved parties and a complete backfire. In the end, they weren’t qualified to understand who is woke and who is not — or what woke means. The principal team owners are finance billionaires from elsewhere. The CEO, Stan Kasten, is a longtime sports executive. The rest of the front office is comprised of mostly baseball geeks.
So, play ball and stop trying to save humanity. Stadiums and arenas are places of escapism anyway. We go to games to flee a tangled world, right? How nice to think sports could unite and chip away at hatred, but it’s unrealistic to expect the industry to have well-versed leaders. One who qualifies is Rick Welts, the most successful openly gay executive in U.S. team sports, who still advises the Golden State Warriors and should have been summoned by the Dodgers. Maybe he’d have explained what might transpire after the Sisters were announced as award-winners.
Rubio’s letter to commissioner Rob Manfred made significant impact and led to the removal of the Sisters. Inquiring if MLB is “inclusive and welcoming” to Christian people “by giving an award to a group of gay and transgender drag performers that intentionally mocks and degrades Christians,” Rubio wrote, “The ‘sisters’ are men who dress in lewd imitation of Roman Catholic nuns. The group’s motto, ‘go and sin some more,’ is a perversion of Jesus’s command to ‘go, and sin no more.’ The group’s ‘Easter’ ceremony features children’s programming followed by a drag show where adult performers dress in blasphemous imitation of Jesus and Mary. The group hosts pub crawls mocking the Stations of the Cross and even the Eucharist, the sacrament that unites more than one billion Catholics around the world.”
I’m guessing Kasten had no clue. Next time, get one. He can stop patting himself on the back as a social pioneer. Heretofore, Dodgers have been among the sports industry’s leaders in progress and breaking barriers, with no prouder distinction than pioneering Jackie Robinson’s path to the major leagues. “We are most proud of the Dodgers’ place in society,” Kasten said not long ago. “No franchise has had the impact on society at large or popular culture as the Dodgers.” Diversity and inclusion are woven into the interlocked “LA” logo on the team’s iconic blue caps, or so they’ve told us, over and over.
So what happened this time, after nine successful Pride Nights at Dodger Stadium? They misread the bigger room. “If they’re not invited, I’m not going,’’ tweeted L.A. County supervisor Lindsay Horvath. “Celebrating Pride is about inclusion. Do better.”
Wrote L.A. City Council member Eunisses Hernandez: “Los Angeles must be a place where everyone feels empowered to express themselves, and this move undermines that.”
The eyes of the sports world are on Chavez Ravine. Will the Dodgers re-invite the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence or cancel Pride Night altogether? They aren’t alone in unprecedented limbo. The NHL encountered turbulence in at least five locker rooms regarding Pride Night requirements established by the league. The Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild declined to wear Pride jerseys. Players in Philadelphia and Florida, where the Panthers are bidding for a Stanley Cup, didn’t participate in LGBTQ+ events, including Russian players who feared repercussions in their native land for bucking Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay laws. A league should not force players to wear Pride garb. No workplace should.
It’s admirable of sports to play a role in transforming the world, or at least trying. But if leagues and teams can’t discern the difference between right or wrong — and who can anymore? — I’m afraid it’s no longer possible to host Pride Nights in the third decade of a haywire 21st century. A week from Monday, the Dodgers will celebrate Military Appreciation Night, as a team defying a reduced payroll leads the NL West. They have mastered those exercises through time.
Stay away from those they botch.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.