Taijuan Walker, Mark Canha, and vocal support of Pride

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Obviously, Major League Baseball’s clubhouses have a long way to go in terms of even catching up to the rest of the country, on a cultural level. Take the Pride Nights that occur in June across most of the league, for instance. They’re a fairly anodyne event, generally speaking — Pride is fairly corporate at this point, which is the kind of thing that only happens when you pass a certain level of general acceptance (i.e., there is money to be made from associating with it) — and while there are certainly forces in the United States attempting to roll back everything to a time when trans people didn’t feel comfortable identifying as such publicly, which is surely just the first stanza in a new poem that riffs on “First they came for…”, support for LGBTQIA+ people is light years ahead of where it used to be. Which, you know, is part of the reason there are certain forces in the United States attempting to roll back everything in the first place.

And yet, despite this, you have the Rays’ accepting that some of their players are incapable of acceptance, because of their interpretation of a book they simply do not have the literacy to understand. Ginny Searle already wrote splendidly about Jason Adam and the Bigotnauts, so I don’t want to rehash all of that here other than to say you should read or re-read Searle’s effort. I do, though, want to focus on some of the pushback within the league on what the Rays’ players did. Because there wasn’t nearly enough pushback, and should be more of it.

Taijuan Walker, a starting pitcher for the Mets, spent time in the Mets’ team store at Citi Field on their Pride Night, and he purchased the Pride merchandise for anyone picking some up. He’s been vocal about supporting the community and championing Pride, and, along with teammate Mark Canha, hyped up the Mets’ Pride Night in addition to footing the bill for anyone buying that merch in the stadium.

Canha also spoke with SNY’s Andy Martino on the state of MLB’s clubhouses and how culturally backwards they are compared to society at large. It’s worth reading, not because Canha nor Martino, who are both straight, white, cis men, have all the answers — they admit they do not — but because you can see Canha working out how angry he is allowed to be about the lack of support and basic human goodness within MLB’s clubhouses:

“I would like to sit here and say, ‘Oh we should have a discussion,’” Canha said. “‘The more we talk about it, the more we have open discussions about it, the faster that will lead to progress.’ But I think it’s going to be a slow burn in this case, because I think I’m probably in the minority here in saying I’m an ally to that community.”

I gestured around the Mets clubhouse. “In here?” I said. “Or in any — ”

“In any clubhouse,” Canha said. “I think I would be in the minority in this regard. So I don’t know if talking about it would really help.

[Where I came from], you would be in the minority if you weren’t an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. So I was working under the assumption that young people in their 20s and 30s are all on that side. And then you get here and you quickly realize, ‘Oh, okay, that’s not the case.’

“And it’s athletes, too. You have masculinity, testosterone, whatever. The Rays situation doesn’t really surprise me. It is what it is. The right way to approach it isn’t calling anybody out, because that’s where we are right now. That’s like the thing to do, calling everybody out. Twitter slamming is what’s fun for everybody to do, and easy for everybody to do, so I think that’s the wrong way to go about it.”

Here, I think it hit us both that we shouldn’t be too dismissive about combative behavior, which is often necessary to force change. The avoidance of it is a common trap for those cushioned by privilege and not directly impacted by the violence of bigotry.

“I do think that if you want progress, you should be [combative],” Canha said.

“It makes me angry,” Canha continued, faster now than when we began talking. “But I know there is only so much I can do about it. It’s something that I want to be militant and combative about, because I think it deserves that and it needs that, but at the same time it’s like, how far am I going to get? That’s where you draw the fine line. And that’s where we are as a country.

I quote quite a bit of the story because of where Canha ends up — he starts out by saying that he doesn’t think talking and discussing things with his teammates is going to get it done, but then, after talking it through some more with Martino, they both realize that combative is what’s needed, and that simply sitting back and letting the Jason Adams of the world tell lies about what the Bible says or what Jesus would expect of you is just letting them keep the bigoted foothold they refuse to come down from.

Canha and Walker are just two players, but they aren’t alone. They’re outnumbered, from the sounds of things, but not alone. MLB’s clubhouses might not work as a proper sample of where America stands on social issues, given the extremely self-selected group we’re talking about here, but silence from those who do support LGBTQIA+ folks, like with any other group or issue, isn’t going to change any minds, either. Silence doesn’t make you an ally, in the same way an MLB team hosting a Pride Night, or Bank of America publicly supporting Pride events while being sued for sexual orientation discrimination doesn’t make you an ally.

The Rays might have had a Pride Night, but they didn’t even force their players to pretend to support what the night was about. That’s not going to change on its own — the players who believe what Canha and Walker believe are going to have to be more vocal about it. Everything shouldn’t rest just on the LGBTQIA+ community itself, especially not at a time when that community is clearly under attack by those in power. It might not be the most comfortable thing for them to do, but it’s what’s needed, and what’s right.

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