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By Zack Ward
ANNAPOLIS (Oct. 18, 2013) -- Things got pretty ugly on Major League Baseball teams’ Facebook pages when the league honored an advocacy group’s anti-bullying campaign by celebrating a purple-themed Spirit Day for the second time in league history. The group, GLAAD, supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
The two-year old tradition did not sit well with some baseball fans, including some fans of the Baltimore Orioles, many of whom didn’t seem to realize that it was league-wide, and couldn’t understand why their O’s were supporting the LGBT cause instead of “stick[ing] to baseball.”
The Orioles changed their profile picture Thursday to have purple trim around their logo, and put out a post at 9:30 a.m. that said: “Join MLB as we stand up against bullying and stick up for LGBT youth by going purple for #SpiritDay 10/17.”
Negative posts on Spirit Day were an issue around the league, with things getting bad enough on the Atlanta Braves’ page to merit an article on Deadspin, a national sports website. Some of the Orioles fans’ comments were similar to those on Atlanta’s wall in that they refused to condone a gay lifestyle, but largely agreed with the need to stop bullying.
Some early comments on the Orioles official Facebook page read: “I won’t wear purple to stick up for LGBT youth I think less of your organization for promoting the lifestyle ... why can’t it just be against bullying young people for any reason” and “Just win baseball games OK.”
A different commenter, Roger Boothe, spoke in a phone interview on Friday and echoed the sentiment of many that the Baltimore baseball team had “no business” bringing up the LGBT issue. He also explained why he told other commenters they should be contacting the Orioles offices and not arguing on Facebook.
“I guess the Orioles’ Facebook page should really be for news about the team,” Boothe, 45, from Frederick said. “In fact, there were a lot of posters who said ‘hey let’s talk about the team and what we need to do to improve.’ Plus there was a lot of animosity coming out on both sides. For the people who were anti-gay there was name calling, and for the people who were pro-gay they were calling the others ‘dummies’ and things like that.”
Orioles’ spokesman Greg Bader said, “Comments on Facebook and other social media platforms always run the spectrum from positive to negative. There are occasionally inappropriate and, ironically in this case, sometimes bullying posts which we work with MLB to remove, but our policy is to allow our fans to freely express their positive and negative feelings in a respectful and non-threatening manner.”
Bader said, “Major League Baseball and the Orioles are proud to support Spirit Day. We believe that by taking a stand against the bullying of all children, including LGBT children, the Orioles and the other 29 MLB teams send an important message that this type of abhorrent behavior should not be tolerated.”
However, Thursday’s commenting war would indicate that the Orioles and professional baseball still exist in a climate that is hesitant to embrace the LGBT movement.
In fact, across all major male professional sports, homophobia is an issue. If any league has been leading the way for gay acceptance it has been the NBA, and not MLB or the NFL. This past spring Washington Wizards center Jason Collins became the first active male athlete in any of those leagues to come out as gay. On Oct. 11, the Portland Trail Blazers became the first NBA team to officially endorse same-sex marriage.
“Even with recent events like in the NBA, there’s too much controversy still with athletes coming out,” said Randy Sloman, 38, from Brooklyn Park -- another Facebook commenter. “They don’t feel like they’ll be received ... Certain organizations have come along further and I don’t think Major League Baseball is one of them, but certainly supporting the Spirit Day goes a long way.”
Another commenter, Mike Bernard, who runs a group called Gay, Lesbian or Whoever that goes on trips to Orioles games said, “I think for me it feels like baseball is evolving like every professional sport and like society overall ... first fans are gonna be baseball fans for their teams -- they’re not often going to care about the issues of the day.”
To Bernard, 52, from Baltimore, it’s hard to judge how welcoming Camden Yards is to the LGBT community when he goes with the GLoW group because he said, “when we go to the game, we go to the game as Orioles fans. Some people [in the group] are gay, some people are not.”
However, he also said he is trying to start an LGBT night at the stadium.
“They said we have to sell 1,500 tickets for them to call the game a ‘so and so’ night,” Bernard said. “The Nationals did it twice last year where 2,000 tickets were sold so they had two gay-lesbian nights ... So that is something I’m going to look into.”