On Friday, the St. Louis Cardinals announced that in partnership with Pride St. Louis, the team would hold its first-ever Pride Night on August 25th. The promo reads: “With the purchase of a special Theme Ticket, fans will receive a Cardinals cap with a rainbow STL logo. A portion of each ticket sold will benefit the PrideSTL Scholarship, which is awarded annually to St. Louis area students.” With roughly half of MLB teams holding annual Pride nights, any addition to the list should usually be celebrated. But this time it’s different. The announcement comes just weeks after the team received flack for announcing former player and anti-LGBT protester Lance Berkman would speak at the team’s July 30th Christian Day game.
To recap Berkman’s views: In 2015, he spoke out against Houston’s equal rights ordinance, condemning Proposition 1 for allowing “troubled men” into women’s bathrooms and locker rooms under the guise of being transgender. He later doubled-down on these remarks, adding that he was being persecuted online for them, and that tolerance is the thing “killing America.” Though he admitted that using the phrase “troubled men” was problematic, he has yet to lament his opposition to the ordinance or prove he is in any way accepting of the LGBT community.
There are many LGBT individuals who struggle with how to reconcile who they are with their faith, because many Christians preach that homosexuality is against Christianity. These people often assume the position that in America, Christians are persecuted by a creeping secularism that doesn’t exist, going so far as to argue the very presence of LGBT individuals is an attack on their straightness and religion. To endorse these views is to reject the Christianity of acceptance, kindness, and love that many others preach and instead endorse one that projects itself through antagonism and bigotry and the false notion that it is under attack. Too often this religion is usurped by people in power to dehumanize groups that supposedly present some sort of threat to this power. If some believe that Christianity truly is in decline, they should want those in powerful positions, like the Cardinals, should preach openness and acceptance, rather than driving from its ranks all those who somehow don’t conform to the singular idea of a Christian that now exists.
America is far too slowly progressing toward LGBT equality, and each day spent debating the validity of LGBT people is a day spent murdering them. Suicide rates among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times higher than among straight youth, and 40 percent of trans youth attempt suicide by the age of 25. When the Cardinals support Berkman’s remarks about the LGBT community, they are telling all of their LGBT fans that they are unwelcome in the Cardinals community, that what so many view as an escape or as a way to cope with the hatred they face is now yet another place telling them they shouldn’t exist. When so few accepting places exist, particularly in “Christian”-heavy areas, removing just one tolerant space can have dire consequences.
Indeed, in 2015, the Cardinals system had a then-closeted gay pitcher Tyler Dunnington, whom they drafted the previous year. Dunnington quit baseball at the end of the 2015 season, remarking that he heard on multiple occasions coaches and fellow players joking about killing gay people. It likely never occurred to these people there could be an LGBT player listening to them, because LGBT players are forced to hide their sexuality/gender identity or drop out of baseball at earlier ages after realizing how intolerant it is. For many, sports as a whole is seen as a straight man’s endeavor, as gay men are too feminine to play or watch them. There is no telling how many closeted players like Tyler Dunnington exist, and how many of them wake up every day feeling ostracized from the thing they love and being unable to ask for or receive support from their organizations.
The Cardinals hosting a pride night while continuing to support Berkman is the ultimate “sorry if you were offended” non-apology. It’s a slap to the face of Dunnington, whose bravery should—and must—result in something more positive, more groundbreaking, more compassionate. It places the burden on the LGBT community to accept this bogus olive branch or appear to fit every stereotype of them as selfish, unsatisfied people who want to disrupt the daily lives of straight Americans. Regarding Pride Night, team president William DeWitt III stated he hopes it will “remind fans that everyone is welcome at Busch Stadium,” again placing the burden on LGBT people to attend or seem ungrateful and difficult. Using “remind” crafts a narrative that LGBT people have always been welcome at the park, which is not the case, and presumably “everyone” means that both Berkman-esque people and LGBT people are welcome, as if these groups could ever exist in the same place peacefully.
Anything short of a full condemnation of Berkman’s stance on LGBT issues is an open endorsement of them and a message to the LGBT community that the Cardinals do not care about them except as PR devices. Donating a portion of ticket prices to the PrideSTL scholarship fund is not enough, as according to the PrideSTL website, the funds may not go directly to LGBT individuals: “Pride St. Louis annually awards the scholarship to St. Louis area LGBTQIA+ student(s), students/children of an LGBTQIA+ parent, or student allies of the LGBTQIA+ community to provide financial assistance to attend a post-secondary undergraduate institution.” While it is admirable and good of PrideSTL to support all members of the LGBT community, the Cardinals’ participation is not nearly enough to combat the anti-LGBT sentiment the club has assumed.
As long as Berkman is allowed to speak at Busch Stadium one month before Pride Night, the rainbow logo on the giveaway hats acts as a contradiction that could very well mean life or death for a number of LGBT Cardinals fans. There is no such thing as toleration when it forces you to shake hands with a bigot. It should not be up to LGBT youth to constantly reach across the aisle to make peace with people who view their existence as a perceived threat while actually threatening LGBT people. It should never be up to the persecuted to be the bigger people. And yet the Cardinals have made it so.
It is unclear what benefit the club will receive from having Berkman as a spokesman (who only played with the Cardinals for parts of two seasons), and so it can only be assumed that representatives of the team agree with Berkman’s position of bigotry. Which means it falls to us, the fans, to speak out against the team’s actions and create a community LGBT people have been denied for centuries. Though the Cardinals are surely not the only team to hold anti-LGBT views, they are the team who has made them most prominent, and it is up to us to hold them accountable and let it be known to all teams that bigotry’s time ruling baseball has run out.
Mary Craig is a baseball history enthusiast who writes about the sport’s relation to America’s political history. You can follow her on Twitter at @marymcraig.