In a lovely bit of serendipity, Friday’s Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage coincided with the kickoff of Pride weekend in the Bay Area, which means that it also coincided with the Giants’ LGBT Night. The TV broadcast made reference to both events: the cameras showed a sampling of fans, some of them same-sex couples, dressed in rainbow-themed Giants gear, and the announcers (both former players) talked about the Supreme Court decision—not effusively, but with a quiet approval that was moving in its own way.
All of this came unexpectedly to me as I watched the game, and I thought about the history I’ve gotten to observe on this topic with this team. In 1994, the Giants became the first team to dedicate a game to AIDS research and awareness, the annual “Until There’s a Cure” Day. I went one year—I think it was during the Candlestick years, though I’m not sure—and spent much of the proceedings before the game terrified that, even in San Francisco, someone was going to boo or make some homophobic crack. As it happened, there was only one discordant note from the crowd: when the public address announcer called for a moment of silence to remember AIDS victims, a fan sitting near me was discomfited. “Come on,” he said. “Play ball!”
By and large, no one was going to stick their necks out against AIDS awareness, but the tension was still there. One year, a Giants pitcher, Mark Dewey, refused to come on the field with his teammates for the pre-game ceremony, taking the moment to tell everyone that homosexuality is a sin. When the team all wore red ribbons on their uniforms, he wore his sideways, to resemble a Jesus fish.
But time marches on. The Giants made an “It Gets Better” video in 2011, and now in addition to Until There’s a Cure they have a night coinciding with Pride Weekend—pride, not just survival. And last night the broadcasters made no attempt to sweep that pride under the rug, or even to ignore the actual political manifestation of it that was on everyone’s minds that night. These are low bars, maybe, but it’s nice to watch your team clear them.
Homophobia is still rampant in men’s sports, obviously. The wait for an openly gay player in any of the major men’s sports leagues continues. And Friday hardly demonstrated major progress in this regard: it’s a pretty definitive sign of how conservative sports fans are relative to the general population that, at a time when brands on social media were racing to celebrate the Supreme Court decision with rainbow logos and the like, only five men’s sports teams—all based in California—did so. Teams know where their bread is buttered: older white men.
I do think the arc of the moral Eephus bends towards justice, and before long more teams will show an affinity for celebrating gay rights. But I don’t mean to prognosticate, or to make some sort of point about the larger world of sports in this regard. It’s more about the similarity between feeling like one’s country is catching up to what’s right, and feeling that way about one’s country and fellow fans. On a literal level the equation is absurd, since compared to the United States government a baseball team has almost no power to (short of signing Jackie Robinson or the equivalent, I suppose). But in the parallel life that is sports fandom, the team is the parallel nation. Like one’s country it’s often frustrating, even maddening, but you can’t quit it, so you savor the moments when you’re proud to root for it.