The New York Yankees high-five each other after winning 6-3 against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 3, 2020 (Sarah Stier/Getty)
For the first time in four years, a season of Major League Baseball has passed without a single homophobic slur being uttered on the field.
The 2020 season ended on Sunday after coronavirus shortened it to 60 games, and all players managed to make it through without any recorded, on-field anti-gay controversies.
However, although it ended on a high note, the season wasn’t totally devoid of anti-gay sentiment.
Unfortunately the Cincinnati Reds’ game against the Kansas City Royals was marred by Fox Sports announcer Thom Brennaman using a homophobic slur live on air while he thought his mic was turned off.
Viewers were horrified to hear the veteran commentator referring to Kansas City as “one of the fag capitals of the world”. His on-air plea for forgiveness fell short of the mark as he broke off midway to comment on the baseball game in front of him.
Brennaman later issued a second apology, claiming he was unaware of the history of “hate and prejudice” the slur is rooted in, but Fox moved to suspend him after 30 years of commentating.
Sadly it was far from the first time the word was heard on the pitch.
The long history of homophobia in Major League Baseball is often blamed for the fact that only two players have ever come out as LGBT+, with no current players identifying as queer.
According to Ginny Searle of Baseball Prospectus, anti-gay slurs are “something of an annual occurrence” in Major League Baseball.
She told NPR’s Leila Fadel that although many teams engage in LGBT+ campaigns like Pride nights, in reality they don’t go far enough.
“I don’t know that you would qualify them as substantial enough to be a complete affirmation of the LGBT+ community,” she said.
“[It doesn’t] give certainties that on every instance – not just the broadcast booth, in the stands, the locker rooms, everywhere – the LGBT+ community is respected and not simply allowed, but welcomed as a substantial part of the community.”
But for Sean Doolittle, a Washington Nationals player and long LGBT+ ally, there is hope. He told Outsports that the fierce reactions to Brennaman’s slur indicated a fundamental shift in attitudes.
“My experience as a player, I really think is changing,” he said. “The outrage response is evidence it is changing.”
He recalled an incident at a game last year when a fan repeatedly called him a “fag” as he was warming up in the bullpen. The homophobe was immediately confronted by Dolittle’s teammates, who called security and had him ejected from the stadium.
“They knew, even as far as a fan heckling, there is no room for that in our game at the ballpark,” Doolittle said. “I thought that was awesome.”