TAMPA, FLORIDA — Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio penned a letter to Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, questioning the organization’s support for a medical clinic that provides hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Rubio pointed out that HRT causes irreversible damage to developing teenage boys and girls, calling this aspect of the clinic’s work “extremely harmful and irreversible practices not backed by science.”
The Rays are not alone in their support for LGBTQ initiatives, many of which support HRT and other transgender procedures including those that surgically remove body parts. In addition to individual teams, the professional sports leagues themselves have endorsed LGBTQ causes. The NFL, MLB and NHL have fallen in line with many other corporations by transforming their logos into rainbow colored symbols of support for the homosexual and transgender mission.
Leagues have certainly put pressure on teams to conspicuously promote LGBTQ causes, but not all have succumbed to it. The Texas Rangers are reportedly the only MLB team willing to abstain from rainbow tributes. Within the five biggest leagues, every major pro sports team in Florida has proudly championed the LGBTQ cause.
In April, the Miami Heat participated in the 2022 Miami Beach Pride Parade. Former star Dwayne Wade, arguably the team’s greatest player and one of the city’s most celebrated athletes in any sport, has publicly celebrated his son Zion’s desire to be recognized as a female since age 12. Wade recently filed a formal request to change Zion’s legal name to Zaya and his gender status to female. In the past, Wade has taken shots at those who hold to traditional views on sexuality.
“So all the people who are out there saying those things, look at yourself. Understand that you’re the one that got the issues,” he said on a Showtime podcast in 2019. “You’re the one that got the problem; it’s not the kids. It’s not that you decided that they were born a certain way and they have to be that way... that’s not life, man. I watched my son from day one become into who she, now, eventually, has come into.”
Last season, the Dolphins hosted a Pride Day and, like the Heat, the team also participated in Miami Beach Pride. The Dolphins support over a dozen LGBTQ organizations. RaShauna Hamilton, Senior Director of Community Relations & Youth Programs, said she volunteered that she was a homosexual in her job interview and now boasts of facilitating “so many programs that assist and expand the LGBTQ community.”
The Dolphins lit up Hard Rock stadium with rainbow colors in 2019. Months later, wide receiver Preston Williams was the only player in the league to select a LGBTQ-specific charity in participation with the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats initiative. The team has also been willing to discipline players who express dissenting opinions. During the 2014 NFL draft, safety Don Jones tweeted “OMG” and “horrible” after Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend on national television. The Dolphins promptly suspended Jones for his politically incorrect comments and required him to complete “educational training.”
For over 20 years, the Jaguars have been proud supporters of JASMYN, a local LGBTQ advocacy group focused on children and teens. In a Facebook post last month, JASMYN referred to gender-affirming care as “medically necessary.” The team has given over $300,000 towards JASMYN initiatives. In June, the Jaguars sponsored the nearby Fernandina Beach Pride Parade and Festival just north of Jacksonville.
Owner Shad Kahn was a vocal supporter of the city’s controversial Human Rights Ordinance (HRO), which passed in 2018 and restricts private businesses from refusing service or employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Kahn said passing the legislation meant more to him than winning a Super Bowl.
“If we had even won the Super Bowl, I told the players that that would still be No. 2 thing for me,” he told News4Jax last year. “Why? Because what the team and what the players did put us in a position to get enough votes to get HRO passed.”
TAMPA BAY RAYS
In addition to the recent attention attracted by Rubio’s letter, the Rays made national headlines this summer after five players refused to wear the rainbow-colored emblem on the team’s Pride Night. “When we put it on our bodies, I think a lot of guys decided that it’s just a lifestyle that maybe — not that they look down on anybody or think differently — it’s just that maybe we don’t want to encourage it if we believe in Jesus, who’s encouraged us to live a lifestyle that would abstain from that behavior," pitcher Jason Adam told the Tampa Bay Times.
The Rays were also among the first professional sport franchises to sign a 2015 amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting same-sex marriage.
Since 2017, the Marlins have hosted Pride at the Park, often giving away rainbow hats and t-shirts. Some players sported rainbow wristbands and the team’s mascot proudly waves a rainbow flag. Along with the other teams in the city, the Marlins support Miami Beach Pride.
The Magic have hosted Pride Night to celebrate the LGBTQ community since 2017. In 2021, the team’s Pride Night featured several “activations,” including a National Anthem performance by the Orlando Gay Chorus Quartet and in-game recognitions for the Zebra Coalition, which focuses their LGBTQ efforts on teens as young as 13, and Divas and Dialogue, a “sisterhood of trans women of color.”
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
For each of the past five seasons, the Lightning have hosted an annual “Pride Night,” with a portion of the game’s proceeds going to support LGBTQ groups in the Tampa area. Similar to the Rays, players wore rainbow colored emblems on their jerseys. Rainbows could also be seen on the team’s sticks and pucks.
Last year, the Panthers hosted their annual Pride Night, featuring “special pride warmup jerseys,” “Love Wins” souvenir cups and a National Anthem performance by The Gay Men's Chorus of South Florida. Proceeds from the souvenir cups supported the Harvey Milk Foundation, which also focuses its LGBTQ mission on young people. In 2018, Jonathan Huberdeau became the NHL’s first player to rock the rainbow tape on his hockey stick.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
In August, the Bucs signed defensive end Carl Nassib, who has publicly come out as a homosexual. The team has been teaming up with LGBTQ groups since 2015. The Buccaneers pro shop also offers rainbow shirts, socks and signs that say “Mr. and Mr.”
Sports were once viewed as an apolitical realm that united Americans for a few precious hours every week. Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem during the 2016 NFL season brought that widely accepted paradigm to an acrimonious end. That October, a Rasmussen Reports poll revealed that nearly one-third (32%) of Americans indicated they were less likely to watch an NFL game due to the Black Lives Matter protests from players on the field.
As it pertains to LGBTQ issues, NFL fans expressed their disapproval on an Instagram post from the league’s official account of a rainbow-colored logo for each team. One follower’s comment garnered over 16,000 likes, saying: “Tf pride month gota do with football.” Another that said, “Use me as a dislike button,” earned more than 10,000 likes.