The Atlanta Braves is by far the most LGBT-inclusive of Atlanta’s men’s professional teams, despite some significant PR mishaps from individuals in the past.
On June 18, the team will host its third-annual LGBT fan day, Out in the Stands — the only men’s team in the city to host such an event.
But some Braves, like many other celebrities, have succumbed to what we might call bigoted-foot-in-mouth disease.
The Out in the Stands event was first organized in 2011 after Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was accused of using gay slurs toward fans at a game in San Francisco. McDowell allegedly shouted, “Are you a homo couple or a threesome?” at fans and imitated a sex act using a baseball bat.
The franchise responded by suspending him. McDowell publicly apologized and underwent sensitivity training. Georgia Equality and PFLAG Atlanta also asked for — and received — a meeting with the club’s president, John Schuerholz.
The team then put out an anti-bullying public service announcement that included star players Chipper Jones, Brian McMann, Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward. The 2011 PSA was part of the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” campaign and included sexual orientation as an unacceptable reason to bully.
McDowell’s unfortunate comments were not the first homophobic misstep from one of the Atlanta Braves.
In the most famous incident, in 1999, then-Braves relief pitcher John Rocker was quoted explaining why he would never play in New York. He listed a number of people with whom he would not like to have to take the train to the ballpark, including “some queer with AIDS.”
Rocker was suspended for 60 days by Major League Baseball, but had suspension cut to 30 days by an arbitrator.
In 2004, then-Braves pitcher John Smoltz compared gay marriage to bestiality in an AP story about gay athletes.
“Smoltz, a devout Christian, criticized those who want to legalize gay marriage,” the AP reported. “‘What’s next? Marrying an animal?’ he asked derisively.”
In 2006, the Atlanta Braves also angered the LGBT community when they sponsored the first “Faith Day” in the MLB that included the anti-gay Focus on the Family.
At the game, Focus on the Family representatives handed out pamphlets for its Troubledwith.com website that features anti-gay content, including stating homosexuality is a development problem and also likened gay people to pedophiles.
In response to the backlash from gay fans, the the Braves disinvited Focus on the Family from participating in future Faith Day events.
Atlanta Falcons National Football League
The Atlanta Falcons NFL team has not hosted a specific LGBT fan day or reached out formally to court gay football fans.
After the NBA’s Jason Collins came out late last month, Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel told Fox Sports Radio: “Straight people are not announcing they’re straight, so why does everybody have to announce their sexuality or whatever? You know, what they prefer.” He then told ESPN, “I don’t want to teach my kids those things. I teach my kid God, how God lives his life.”
And in April 2012, Falcons wide receiver Roddy White drew controversy when he tweeted, “would you rather be gay or straight, come on you know that answer” when a fan asked if he would rather lead the league in stats or win the Super Bowl. He then defended his biased analogy as freedom of speech when other fans complained.
Esera Tualo, who came out in 2002 after his retirement from the NFL, played for the Falcons in 1998.
Atlanta Hawks National Basketball Association
Like the Falcons, the Atlanta Hawks, the city’s NBA franchise, has not hosted a specific LGBT fan day.
But the team issued a classy statement when Jason Collins, who played for the Hawks from 2009 – 2012, came out last month.
“We have great respect for Jason and his message today. Creating an environment where we support, respect, and accept our players’ individual rights is very important to us,” Hawks Managing Partner and NBA Governor Bruce Levenson said in the statement. “Jason represented everything that we look for as a member of the Atlanta Hawks and we are proud he wore our jersey.”
Atlanta Dream Women’s National Basketball Association
The Atlanta Dream has long recognized and welcomed its lesbian fan base.
Lesbian fans have always been part of the team’s season ticket holders and promotions, but the Dream held its first official LGBT Pride Night in August 2012, benefitting local LGBT organizations.
The team also welcomed a group from Black Gay Pride last year and partnered with GLAAD — the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation — for a special ticket offer with a portion benefitting the group.
In 2011, the Dream featured out lesbian radio host (and GA Voice columnist) Melissa Carter as its “Inspiring Woman of the Game” — describing over the arena loudspeaker her LGBT accomplishments and her work on behalf of organ transplantation.
The Dream has also hosted meet-and-greets with players and executives for LGBT groups, including the HRC, lesbian networking group Fourth Tuesday, and the lesbian-founded Decatur Women’s Sports League.
The team has partnered with the Decatur Women’s Sports League to sell tickets benefitting the Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative, which has now changed its name to the Health Initiative and expanded its mission to cover all LGBT people.
Top photo: For two years running, LGBT fans have flocked to Turner Field for the Atlanta Braves Out in the Stands. This year’s event is slated for June 18. (by Ryan Watkins)