New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy -- the team's lone All-Star representative in 2014 -- caused a bit of a controversy last week when he said, "I do disagree with the [gay] lifestyle, 100 percent." Murphy was responding to a presentation by former MLB player Billy Bean, who said publicly he was gay after his playing days were over and has been touring various teams' spring training camps as MLB's Ambassador for Inclusion.
The situation highlights an interesting gap in the uni-verse. At a time when teams are wearing special uniforms to draw attention to a wide range of causes and cultural movements -- the military, cancer awareness, autism awareness, Movember, Black History Month, Hispanic outreach, children's charities, and more -- why haven't there been any LGBT pride uniforms?
Actually, there have been a few of them, especially during the past year or so, but not in places where the typical American sports fan would see them. Here's a timeline of LGBT-centric uniforms and uni-related gestures that Uni Watch is aware of, beginning with the most recent instances:
Feb. 21: Another Swedish hockey team, Örebro, wore full-rainbow uniforms for Pride Night. Players and staff also marched in the local pride parade earlier in the day.
January and February: Men's and women's college basketball teams in the America East Conference partnered with the You Can Play Project, which supports acceptance of lesbian, gay, bixsexual and transgender players, coaches and fans, to hold "You Can Play" Nights, with players wearing pregame warm-up shirts with a rainbow treatment of the conference logo on the front and "You Can Play" on the back.
September: Several soccer players in the English Premier League wore rainbow-patterned shoelaces to raise awareness of LGBT issues and show support for gay players.
June: Several WNBA players wore rainbow-patterned #BeTrue Nike Zoom HyperRev sneakers as part of the league's Pride initiative.
Jan. 11, 2014: The San Francisco Bulls, a minor league hockey team, held an LGBT Night promotion, complete with rainbow-patterned uniforms. Further info here. (A pair of socks from that game is currently available on eBay.)
Oct. 11, 2011: The Harvard wrestling team marked National Coming Out Day by posing for a team photo while wearing rainbow pins and pro-LGBT T-shirts.
(One footnote: The German Olympic team's rainbow-patterned uniforms for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, were initially interpreted by many observers as a protest against Russia's anti-gay laws. But German authorities said the uniforms had actually been designed before those laws were enacted and were not intended as a political statement.)
As you can see, none of these uniforms has been worn in any of the major North American pro leagues. But many of the "Big Four" pro teams now schedule annual gay pride-themed events on their promotional calendars, and those promotions sometimes include rainbow-accented treatments of the team's branding. On June 26, for example, MLB's San Francisco Giants will present LGBT Night, which will include this T-shirt giveaway. But will we ever see a major pro team wearing a gay pride uni?
"Actually, nobody's ever asked me that before," said Jim Buzinski, co-founder of Outsports. "We've never advocated for it, and to my knowledge there hasn't been any organized effort by LGBT groups to push for uniforms. The fact that there are no openly gay athletes in these sports is probably part of the reason why."
"Having a special uniform is a nice symbol for one night, but I don't know that it actually advances anything. I'd rather see more openly gay athletes wearing a regular, non-rainbow uniform that says, 'Hey, I'm a member of this team.'" Jim Buzinski, co-founder of Outsports
Buzinksi said the gay pride uniforms he's seen, like the Swedish hockey designs, have been "very positive," although he doesn't view uniforms as a major component of the fight against anti-gay bias in sports. "We've been focused more on making team environments accepting of openly gay players," he said. "Having a special uniform is a nice symbol for one night, but I don't know that it actually advances anything. I'd rather see more openly gay athletes wearing a regular, non-rainbow uniform that says, 'Hey, I'm a member of this team.'"
But Outsports' other co-founder, Cyd Zeigler, sees an opportunity for a uni-related move. "GLAAD has Spirit Day each year on a Thursday in October, and people wear purple for that," he said. "The NHL season will be underway, the NBA will be in its preseason, and the NFL will have a Thursday-night game, so I'd like to see the players wearing purple. It would be great to see the leagues embrace something like that."
One thing Buzinski and Zeigler agree upon is that the rainbow pattern has become something of a rote visual cliché. Then again, so have camouflage and pink, and they remain as entrenched in the uni-verse as ever.
The feeling here at Uni Watch HQ is that uniforms for special causes have been overdone in recent years. Still, it's obvious that they're not going away. And if we have to have them, it would be nice to get away from the boilerplate camouflage and pink and instead see a uniform that supports the acceptance of gay athletes -- a movement that's come a long way, but still has a long way to go.
Meanwhile, do you know of other teams that have worn gay pride uniforms? If so, please get in touch. Thanks.
Paul Lukas thinks a Big Four pro team will eventually wear some sort of gay-supportive gear, but probably only for pregame activities. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.