Over the last decade, Pride Nights in sports have grown from a curiosity in a handful of baseball stadiums to a mainstay of professional sports schedules. With encouragement from some pro-sports league front offices, teams across professional sports are now embracing the hosting of a night covered in rainbow flags and dedicated to embracing the LGBTQ community.
It’s a sign of the times, this push for diversity and inclusion. As professional sports teams have more competition for eyeballs and ticket buyers – from the cineplex, phones, e-sports and everything else in between – they are looking for any edge to sell more tickets to a broader range of people.
Los Angeles Dodgers
One of the world’s most LGBTQ-inclusive sports entities is the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers held what is believed to be the first “LGBT Night” in pro sports in 2000. But it came about under pretty auspicious circumstances. Earlier that season a security guard had kicked a lesbian couple out of Dodger Stadium for kissing one another, after a fan had allegedly complained. When the Dodgers front office found out, they were mortified and donated 5,000 tickets to LGBTQ groups. On Sept. 6 of that year, with the lesbian couple sitting behind home plate, the team held “Gay and Lesbian Night at Dodger Stadium.”
For the last few years the Dodgers have held the largest LGBT Night in all of sports, selling many thousands of tickets. This year’s LGBT Night is May 31, with Dodgers part-owners and partners Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss throwing out the game’s ceremonial opening pitch.
For the Dodgers, the commitment to the community runs deep. The team has had two players known to be gay: Glenn Burke in the 1970s and Billy Bean in 1989. Today one of the club’s senior vice presidents, Erik Braverman, is one of the highest-profile out LGBTQ people in sports.
While most other teams have their Pride Night and have very little presence in the LGBTQ community outside of that, the Dodgers engage in other events like Outsports Pride, being held in Los Angeles June 6-9, and working closely with LGBTQ organizations like Varsity Gay League, the Greater Los Angeles Softball Association, LA Pride and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
Los Angeles Sparks
Our city’s WNBA team will host its Pride Night on June 27, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Far beyond Pride Nights, the Sparks have had a genuine relationship with the LGBTQ community for years. Almost 20 years ago the team embraced a strategy of LGBTQ outreach, even as the WNBA as a league and other teams tried to distance themselves from the community. The Sparks even at times made appearances at lesbian events and establishments in West Hollywood and across L.A.
Hockey in L.A.
Thanks in part to the NHL’s relationship with the You Can Play project, the Kings have been engaged with the LGBTQ community for years.
While some teams have more broadly defined the NHL’s mandated “Hockey Is For Everyone” nights, recognizing people from various marginalized communities, the Kings have continued to host their Pride Night, with some players wrapping their blades in rainbow-colored Pride Tape to demonstrate their push for acceptance on the ice.
The Kings have made it a point to highlight the local LGBTQ hockey team Los Angeles Blades in some of their efforts, including a brief interview with a team member during their 2019 Pride Night broadcast in March.
The Anaheim Ducks have also hosted Pride Nights, complete with a rainbow-inspired Ducks T-shirt giveaway.
Two NBA teams
Both the Lakers and Clippers are relatively new to LGBTQ outreach. Each of them had a Pride Night last season, with the Lakers scheduling theirs during a preseason game last October. A unique twist to the night was that every single person entering Staples Center received a Lakers shirt in rainbow colors, thanks to the sponsorship of UCLA Health. The team did a great job splashing the rainbow flag throughout the arena. It in part came about because Riley Buss-Drexel, grandson of former Lakers legendary owner Jerry Buss and part of the team ownership group, is gay and passionate about expanding the team’s outreach to the community.
The Clippers held a Pride Night on New Year’s Day this year and featured a panel discussion addressing LGBTQ issues in sports led by Lambda Basketball. The team actually helped organize its first Pride Night in 2011, co-hosted by Equality California and Outsports.
Battling ‘Puto’ on the Pitch
In no American pro sport is vocal homophobia more present than in soccer. Fans sometimes chant “puto” – a gay slur in Spanish – during matches. Last year they even chanted the slur during the L.A. Galaxy’s Pride Night and some LAFC fans chanted it during the club’s lone playoff match. It’s something that Major League Soccer, as well as LAFC and the Galaxy, have all taken seriously and vowed to eradicate from their stadiums, creating policies and procedures to combat the chants. There have been no public reports of the chant at these club’s home matches during the 2019 season.
Yet the Major League Soccer teams in L.A. have a long history of hosting Pride Nights and other LGBTQ outreach. The now-defunct Chivas USA hosted an Equality Night in 2011, complete with a pre-game reception with the NOH8 campaign, also involving Cheer LA, the LA Gay Men’s Chorus and the It Gets Better project.
This year both of Los Angeles’ current MLS teams are hosting Pride Nights, with LAFC celebrating on May 24 and the Galaxy on June 2. Of course the Galaxy have the proud history of playing the first publicly out athlete in men’s major American pro sports, when Robbie Rogers took to the pitch for the club in 2013. He retired in 2017 and now lives with his husband, Greg Berlanti, and two kids.
In stark contrast to their MLB neighbors to the north, the Anaheim Angels are hosting the club’s first-ever Pride Night on June 25. It’s hard to believe a SoCal team like the Angels would take this long to extend an olive branch to the LGBTQ community, but that’s the truth.
Rams and Chargers
No NFL team has ever hosted an official team game called a “Pride Game” or anything of the sort. That includes both the Rams and Chargers, who just moved to Los Angeles a couple years ago. A big part of that reason is that most NFL teams sell out all of their games anyway; For many sports clubs, if there are no tickets to sell there isn’t a big reason to do a promotional event, and that’s how most of them view Pride Games.
The Rams have, however, made some positive gestures toward the community. They advertised in Los Angeles Blade and sponsored Venice Pride a couple years ago. Molly Higgins is a publicly out executive in the team’s front office. And their two male cheerleaders – Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies – are both publicly out. The Rams also famously drafted Michael Sam before moving to L.A.
The Chargers have made an effort as well, a couple years ago hosting Chargers viewing parties at the Roosterfish in Venice. Yet with the Chargers having such difficulty selling tickets for their home games at StubHub Center, it’s a head-scratcher why the team hasn’t created the league’s first-ever Pride Night.
While it’s not as common for college sports teams to host Pride Nights, some of them do. The UCLA softball team, which has been a national top-three team for most of the season and is chasing a national title, held a three-day Pride Weekend when they played Cal in late March. The first 200 fans who wore rainbow colors to the matches got in free.
The Kiss Cam
One of the neat developments across many of the Pride Nights in Los Angeles has been the inclusion of same-sex couples on the Kiss Cam. The Dodgers have at times included as many as a half-dozen LGBTQ couples. The Kings and Clippers have also featured same-sex couples to big applause from the crowd. For years the Kiss Cam had been used on occasion to embarrass guys (assumed to be straight) with a kiss. The turn-around by various teams in LA has been an important step.