Pride nights at major sporting events have become as American as apple pie.
Major League Baseball has made huge strides in recent years in recognizing LGBTQ fans and players. Only the Angels and the Yankees haven't yet held Pride events. But with the Angels announcing plans to host Pride Night in June 2019, the sea change is almost complete.
It's a rapidly accelerating culture of acceptance for a sport that as recently as 2015 faced backlash from fans in one city that hosted its first Pride night. But even that story had a positive ending. The Chicago Cubs are believed to have held the first Pride Night in 2001 and are one of at least 11 teams to sell official Pride merchandise at games.
During the 2018 season, 23 teams are set to host Pride nights, with many having past and future events on the books. As the world of sports continues to evolve on LGBTQ issues, that's a lot of progress in a very short window of time.
Even the New York Yankees — the only team left so far without an official Pride planned — still recognize that inclusion is paramount.
New York is home to Stonewall, where the modern gay rights movement got its start. In 1994, Yankee Stadium played to host the closing ceremonies of the Gay Games. It seems that it would be one of the first, not the last, baseball team to get on board.
Former Major League star Billy Bean, who came out in 1999 and in 2014 was named MLB's inclusion ambassador, said he's talked to the Yankees about hosting a Pride night but wants it to feel "organic."
Team representatives have said the Yankees are simply moving away from theme nights but insist they are actively working with the LGBTQ community to ensure an inclusive atmosphere at games. But as any sports fan can attest, optics matter. And right now there may be no better public display than hosting a Pride night.
"It's part of us getting better and understanding the value of being inclusive," Bean said. "There's a massive significance to that message."
Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
There's still more work to be done to make sports more inclusive, but Pride nights are a hopeful sign of what's to come.
Major League Baseball has really upped its game as far as inclusion in recent years, and it should be commended for it. And there's still more work to be done for making sports everywhere a safe and welcome space for all people — fans and the athletes themselves included. Pride Nights send a powerful message that all are welcome.