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With their logo in Pride colors, Giants bring the celebration onto the field for the first time

Giants first base coach Antoan Richardson wears a jersey with the Giants logo in Pride colors during Saturday’s game against the Cubs. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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For two decades, Major League Baseball teams have hosted promotional days to celebrate their LGBTQ fans. Wrigley Field held them in the early 2000s, and Pride nights soon proliferated in stadiums across the country. This season, only one team, the Texas Rangers, does not have a Pride celebration of some kind on its schedule.

The other 29 teams typically have an LGBTQ dignitary throw out the first pitch or sing the national anthem. They fill team store shelves with merchandise that includes rainbow colors where team colors normally would be. Sometimes club officials express their support in pregame speeches or videos. But rarely, if ever, do the players participate. As with most promotional days, the players’ job is to play. The organization takes care of the fanfare.

On Saturday, for the first time in major league history, the players were involved. The San Francisco Giants debuted hats with Pride colors in their logo and a Pride-colored “SF” patch on their jerseys, an unprecedented on-field expression of support for LGBTQ fans — and one that required the participation of the players.

“I think it’s an exciting moment for our team, for our organization. I’m very proud of our group for publicly supporting the LGBTQ+ community,” Giants Manager Gabe Kapler said before the game. “I think it’s an important step, and I think we’re all standing behind the community.”

Shauna Daum, the Giants’ senior vice president of public affairs and community relations, said the team had been considering incorporating its uniform into its Pride celebration for a few years. MLB must approve changes to uniforms worn on the field, a process that generally requires a year or so of planning.

The murder of George Floyd forced new conversations — and more uncomfortable conversations — about what the organization could do better. She said the team built diversity and inclusion committees for its employees and tried to empower them to share their experiences. When higher-ups started discussing how to take their celebration of Pride to a new level, they talked to LGBTQ employees about the best ways to do it.

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“I think having some of these more uncomfortable, difficult conversations that we’re all having because of what’s happened in the last year allowed us to really get honest input and increase the comfort of some of our employees to come forward and tell us: ‘Okay, you’re going to do this? This is how we think it should be done,’ ” Daum said.

While initial conversations years ago included the six rainbow colors traditionally used to celebrate the gay and lesbian communities, employees raised the importance of including black and brown to communicate support for Black and Brown members of the LGBTQ community, and of including the light blue, pink and white colors of the transgender flag. The hats the Giants wore Saturday included all 11 colors.

But while the business side of the organization navigated the logistics of asking MLB for approval to sport a new on-field look, it was clear the baseball side of the organization needed to be fully supportive of the move, too. Even in San Francisco in 2021, buy-in from the players, coaches and other on-field staff was not a given.

MLB players are, by and large, more conservative than their counterparts in the NFL and NBA. Anyone spending time in a major league clubhouse in recent decades could hear more than a handful of gay slurs tossed around with no one stepping in to say they shouldn’t be — even as diversity and inclusivity training has become more prevalent. No player has been openly gay during his time in the major leagues.

MLB leadership traditionally has not made leading on issues of social justice and inclusivity a priority, either. The sport is governed largely by owners known for being dragged into conversations of social justice rather than starting them. The Giants’ Charles B. Johnson, for one, is a longtime and generous contributor to far-right political personalities.

When Commissioner Rob Manfred announced in April that MLB would move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta because of laws passed in Georgia that many argue will make it more difficult for Black people to vote, the decision stunned the sports world.

And while cracks are undoubtedly emerging in the sport’s conservative armor, the difference between players being media-savvy enough to know they should not openly insult members of the LGBTQ community and wearing something that openly supports them — that not only affirms their humanity but celebrates it — is vast.

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Just a decade ago, Daum remembered talking to young Giants players who would arrive in San Francisco having never knowingly met a gay person. She remembers when the Giants became the first team to wear red ribbons on their jerseys to honor AIDS patients on “Until There’s a Cure” day in the 1990s.

On that day in 1996, then-Giants pitcher Mark Dewey — described in contemporary reports as “a fundamentalist Christian” — turned the red ribbon on his jersey to the side in protest. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that he did not want to participate in the event because it supported “people that had attitudes, opinions and ideas that directly contradict what I believe to be true.″

The idea of celebrating Pride on player uniforms carried similar risks by lifting the issue into the spotlight — and into the hands of the players. Public displays of acceptance can heal wounds. Public displays of rejection can deepen them.

But the Giants felt the time was right, in part because of Kapler. He hired the first woman to serve on a major league coaching staff, Alyssa Nakken. He knelt during the national anthem last year to protest systemic racism. And he started a foundation called Pipeline for Change to help underrepresented groups, including the LGBTQ community, find their way into baseball jobs.

Kapler talked to his team about the meaning of the Pride hats, Daum said, adding that the organization brought in members of the LGBTQ community to talk to the players. She said the Giants also sought help from veteran leaders in the clubhouse, players who grew up as Giants and have come to appreciate diversity in their fan base. Third baseman Evan Longoria, for example, sported an extra rainbow sweatband before leaving the game with an injury in the ninth.

“Trying to tell them what they need to hear. Just things like, ‘Hey, this may not be the life you live, but if this helps you and I can celebrate you, that’s what it’s all about,’ ” Daum said. “Hopefully we’re also educating the guys on the field. Some of them are young, so they’ve never even thought about this — never even thought about how they can support various communities.”

Pitcher Kevin Gausman, who went seven innings and allowed just two hits in the Giants’ 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs, called the night “really exciting” and “pretty cool.”

“Obviously this is a city that’s really inclusive,” he said. “It was fun to be a part of. I’ve never worn a hat like that before, so that was cool.”

The Giants are not the first professional baseball team to incorporate Pride colors into its jerseys. The Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, then a Class A affiliate of the Cubs, incorporated the rainbow flag into the numbers on the back of their uniforms during Pride month. The decision was inspired, in part, by General Manager Allan Benavides, whose grandmother is gay and who had never had much occasion to talk to her about that part of her life.

When the team decided to add Pride colors to its uniforms, Benavides flew his grandmother in to share her experiences with a room of silent players decades her junior. The team also brought in Candace Gingrich, an LGBTQ activist and half sister of former Republican speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, to explain the significance of celebrating Pride. Benavides said not a single player expressed concerns about wearing the uniforms, but hundreds of fans expressed gratitude.

“There were a lot of people in the stadium who felt comfortable holding hands, hugging each other. A lot of people wearing Pride colors. Just very comfortable,” Benavides said. “And that continued. It wasn’t just that one game.”

Thanks to minor league restructuring finalized before this season, the Emeralds are now an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

“I’m so proud that they’re doing it,” Benavides said. “I think it’s wonderful for teams to take a chance and be bold.”