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A tale of two symbols

July 6, 2013

gay cross hatWe learned a week or so ago that the Busch Stadium grounds crew has made a habit of scratching a cross into the pitchers’ mound, and that the Seattle Mariners would become the first MLB club to fly a gay-pride flag last Sunday when they hosted the Cubs. Two teams, two symbols, and—unsurprisingly—two rather different reactions from fans.

Sunday, the rainbow flag flapped proudly over Safeco Field. Today, the St. Louis Post reported that John Mozeliak had requested an end to the mound-crosses. If you ask me, in both cases, that’s exactly what should have happened.

Rob Neyer has already done an outstanding job of explaining why he found the mound-cross discomforting and the pride flag heartening, but unsurprisingly, a great stinky heap of false equivalences and false dichotomies has piled up around these two symbols nonetheless. “If someone wants to put a cross up that would be offensive, but a fag flag is okay?” wrote one learned theologian in an online comment section. “How about flying the Christian flag instead!” offered another. A third didn’t even waste precious time on symbolism and got straight to the point: “Make it a all gay event and fill the place with all the gays and then blow it up. Where are the terrorists when we really need them.”

So let’s clear a few things up here.

First—and sorry, this is thumpingly obvious to most of you, but not to folks like our remedial friends a couple paragraphs up—“gay” and “Christian” are not mutually exclusive, nor are they natural enemies. The wild gay and the wild Christian can coexist in harmony, sometimes (gasp) even in the same body.

Second, not all demographics (races, sexes, religions, orientations, etc.) wield equal influence in this world, and therefore, the words and symbols used to denote or denigrate them do not carry equal weight. If you think that a symbol of LGBT dignity and a symbol of the Christian faith are just two sides of the same coin, two equivalent variations on a theme, then I worry that you’re also the kind of person who thinks that a white person calling a black one “the N-word” is exactly the same thing!!1! as a black person calling a white one a “cracker,” and that you’ve quite probably been embarrassing yourself on any of the dozen pathetic “Save Paula Deen!” Facebook pages that sprang up this past week. Privilege and power lend weight to the words and symbols we use to represent ourselves and others. That’s why a slur is only as harmful as your capacity—personal or institutional, in-the-moment or historical—to back it up with actual oppression.

Not too many decades ago, the rainbow flag became a symbol of dignity, diversity, and hope during a time when LGBTs were targeted for far greater discrimination and abuse than we face today, even though the struggle for equality is far from complete. The cross, likewise, once symbolized the solidarity of Christians amidst a culture of hardships, but in case you hadn’t noticed, Christians (as a group, in this country, anyway) haven’t faced all that many hardships in the last several hundred years—unless you count “not being able to impose Christian religious principles upon the masses via Bible-based legislation and City Hall nativity scenes and creationist ‘textbooks’ with pictures of people saddling up dinosaurs” as a hardship, which is a pursuit even less worthy of your time and energy than the Paula Deen thing.

All of which brings us to the heart of the matter: The real difference between the mound-cross and the pride flag is that one is staking a claim while the other is issuing an invitation. Obviously the Busch Stadium grounds crew wasn’t consciously marking territory or annexing the infield for Christ, but seriously, does anyone not already know that the big leagues are overwhelmingly populated with Christians of various stripes? Does any Christian fan wonder whether s/he will feel included or alienated at the ballpark? Does any Christian player fear for his safety or his reputation if he wears a cross or gestures to the sky after a God-given extra-base hit? Has any Cardinal fan not heard the Christian-Day-at-the-ballpark-with-the-Duck-Dynasty-dude ad enough times to want to open up an artery with a hunting knife, Matheny-style? We get it. Baseball and Christianity are a great double-play combo.

Baseball and LGBTs, though….? Well, that’s far more uncharted territory. The professional sports world, despite its recent halting progress and the valiant efforts of my star-crossed jock boyfriend, still isn’t exactly known for its openness to a diverse range of sexual orientation and gender expression. I know more than a few gay people who would love to go to a ballgame but are skeptical that they’d be safe—not just included, but physically safe—in a crowd of sports fans. The rainbow flag at Safeco Field flew for only a day, but it was an important message that said You’re welcome here in a space that hasn’t always felt welcoming.

In another hundred and fifty years, perhaps LGBTs will be so completely and seamlessly integrated into American sports culture that Cardinal owner Bill DeWitt XLIV will have to direct the Busch Stadium groundskeepers to quit putting holographic rainbows in the on-deck circles. Until then, let’s keep opening ever wider the doors of the Church of Baseball, where the only Carpenters that matter are named Chris and Matt, and every day’s another chance to get saved.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2013 7:22 am

    Interesting take. I think your reasoning and position is interesting, and it’s funny that we both used the church reference in regards to baseball.

    Personally, I don’t think a rainbow flag belongs there any more than a cross does. The only symbols there should be those of a fan’s team. All of the other symbols that often divide people – a cross or a rainbow flag – are not welcome in a group that is united by their love of the game.

    Excellent article.

    • July 6, 2013 10:59 am

      Thanks, Ray! Love your site too.

      I’m not sure it’s realistic to remove every sign or symbol that might “divide people.” The advertisements and corporate logos plastered all over today’s ballparks probably have at least as much potential to offend or alienate as a cross or a flag might.

      Anyway, I’d like to think that the only division created by an unobtrusive rainbow flag is the one between homophobes and non-homophobes, and—yep, showing my biases here—I’m less concerned about offending the former. 🙂

      Thanks again for your website and your comment….now let’s get a few runs….

    • July 8, 2013 4:20 am

      “All of the other symbols that often divide people – a cross or a rainbow flag – are not welcome in a group that is united by their love of the game.”

      I’m not sure what to make of this. Those who love the game divide themselves. Should teams not be allowed?

      I agree with fearlessleader. The rainbow flag only divides those who hate from those who don’t. I’m ok with that division.

  2. July 6, 2013 5:54 pm

    Mozeliak deserves some kudos for this. Christians love it when people “loudly proclaim their faith,” i.e. Tim Tebow praying on the field every 5 minutes, and putting the cross on the baseball field, etc. But it’s kind of like how McDonald’s spends tens of millions of dollars a year on commercials. If those commercials disappeared tomorrow, would any of us forget about McDonald’s? No, of course not. Because McDonald’s is an institution in the United States, nay throughout the world, and also because there is already a McDonald’s on every street corner, and in just about every town in America. Christians: trust me, we know all about your faith. We couldn’t escape it even if we wanted to. So give it a rest every once in a while, okay?

  3. Johne471 permalink
    August 11, 2014 4:39 pm

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