Monday, July 9, 2007


The beauty of professional sports is that despite the politics, debates and media coverage that may influence or interfere with our enjoyment, we can come to a public venue and appreciate the games. At home, we can save a few bucks by having our own food and scream at the television, but feel the collective soul of fans no matter where they are. In person, the experience is enhanced by sharing the same building as the admired athletes and faithful fans of both teams for a few hours. What's interesting these days with being at the game is how open owners are to groups that have not been catered to in the past.

In recent years, baseball teams have hosted their fair share of groups representative of a caste in society; charitable organizations, faith-based groups, ethnic groups, unions, military (wo)men, etc. The San Diego Padres are no exception as during Sunday's tilt with the Atlanta Braves, they held a dual-promotional night - a team giveaway of floppy hats to children aged 14-and-under as well as "Pride Night", a group night for local gays and lesbians. While it's hard to not pass up on a free hat, it was hard to fathom that the night would not go without a few detractors. Several Christian groups wanted the game to be boycotted and protesters showed up outside PETCO Park to try to deter fans from entering the stadium.

It's banal and many times, maddening to discuss the rights of (wo)men to practice free speech without restriction. That said, you would think that in 2007, some folks would get it. No matter what is your religious/spiritual faith or lack thereof, the idea of protesting against an open and public acceptance of the gay community by a business is beyond wrong. It's quite pathetic, to be honest. There are many misguided notions behind the "Save Our Kids" protest that ensued, even if it had succeeded in emptying the park. For starters, what kind of person believes that a gay person will spread their sexuality to anyone, let alone a child at a baseball game? The stupidity in that 'rationale' shouldn't be excused by anyone, even by those who share a disdain for homosexuality. Maybe the reference to a homeless person doesn't work for some of you, but that speaks to a point that our personal and private matters cannot affect someone in the first instance.

A second porous aspect of this protest is that while the Padres, as well as every professional team with the exception of the Green Bay Packers, is a private enterprise, it answers a civic call that the public demands. Sports beckons that very call more than any other industry and arguably more than our own public officials. The Padres are special in the fact that when philantrophic owner Joan Kroc wanted to sell the team in 1990, she had offered to sell the team to the city of San Diego itself. When Pride Night was announced, there was a part of that southern Californian community that would be able to not only take pride in their bond, but take pride in the local team that reached out. Even if the Padres scuttled back to their early 1990s ways, they would have gained people that may have not felt that they could participate in sports as fans. Civic pride is something that many teams have used as a part of their power play with local governments in order to get public funding for new stadiums for decades. However, when a team actually shows that they have pride in their home, it should be commended, not protested because they want to welcome a still-disenfranchised group.

Of course, that may sound like an ivory-tower, pie-in-the-sky ideal for a private business to perform a civic duty, but there is no denying the business factor of Pride Night. Part of the reason why baseball has enjoyed attendance growth over the past decade is not only the success of teams with huge national followings (Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Braves and Cardinals), but because teams have used promotional and theme nights to increase ticket sales. While San Diego happens to have a pretty good club and a beautiful new ballpark, there are many middling teams that are trying to boost attendance any way possible. The hosts of the All-Star festivities are using their game to increase awareness of leukemia and lymphoma. Tampa Bay's schedule mixes ethnic themes with college alumni nights, Mardi Gras and seniors night. Other contending teams such as the Braves, themselves, host a series called "Faith Days with the Braves" while the Mets are known for displaying ethnic pride - ask the Dominicans and Irish of my fair city. Nearly every baseball franchise understands the importance of these promo nights as means to fill seats when the visiting team isn't a contender or when the home team can't buy a win. While it took much earpulling and after seeing stagnant sales, much of corporate America has recognized that the only way to stay relevant is to find new markets by looking for who else besides the loyal fans have disposable income to spend. It's business 101. What the protesters failed to realize is that the tickets that they could have purchased for their own enjoyment may have gone to people who may have never attended a game before and will become fans, supporting the Padres faithful in the process.

For years, American businesses denied factions of society the right to participate in industry as employees and consumers based on what they could see; race and sex. Even as some idiots may still harbor for those days - as irrational as that is - society at large has moved beyond this sort of economic embargo. Nowadays, it's about recognizing what cannot be seen. You can't see sexuality or faith, even with the symbols and styles that we create to represent them. Owner John Moores didn't want to see the fans' sexual preferences or religous tablets. He wanted to see the money. The gay fans that came to the game didn't want to see protesters, "moral values" and believe it or not, may have not been looking to see how attractive Khalil Greene may be from the bleacher seats. They wanted to see a game.

Say What?!?!: Speaking of seeing a game, two weeks ago, I attended a Brooklyn Cyclones game with "that dude", SPJ. It was the first time I had gone to see a non-Major League baseball game in its entirety (though Babson had a pretty good Division III squad from what I witnessed for a few innings in my time there). If you ever have the chance to check out minor league sports, just sit back and enjoy the scene. As any other game, it will have ebbs and flows, but not only is there an opportunity to check out emerging talent, but it is a chance to appreciate what it's like to not have beer spilled on you, obnoxious chants drowning out game action and the silly, but harmless entertainment from the team.

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