OpEd: The Manors and Marlins Hit a Home Run

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Express Gay News teamed with the Marlins in 2003.

On June 29, the Miami Marlins will again partner with representatives of the LGBT community and host another Pride Night at the Ballpark. Good for them and nice for us.

I won’t lie to you though. The chances are that a lot more people attended the Stonewall Festival on Sunday in Wilton Manors than will ever attend a game at the stadium in Miami this year.

You have to give Jeff Sterling credit. The CEO of the Wilton Manors Entertainment Group, he drew nearly 40,000 people to the festival last weekend, and he did not have to pay Lewis Brinson a $1.6 million signing bonus to play center field.

The Marlins still deserve some credit. They have a ten-year history of reaching out to the LGBT community and its media partners, though not spending perhaps as much with us as they do on their prospects.

Major League Baseball teams in Chicago, San Diego and a few other cities will tell you that Pride Night is one of their most successful annual and well-attended events. 

We have a ways to go here for the Marlins to reach that level of success, but they should try. 

Here is the thing, though. Whether it’s the Herald or SFGN, we are the ones who can promote and illuminate your sport, your stadium, and your team, but we are a free paper. We can’t pay delivery drivers with autographed baseballs. Even the gay pride festival in the Manors now costs a little money to enter, five bucks in fact. 

The new Marlins ownership has plenty on their plate, and many people have their hand out. They continue to support the Marlins Foundation, which, in turn, supports other local charities. Supporting the gay community, though, can pay for itself.

Years ago, back in 2002, when I was publishing the Express Gay News, the Marlins became the first professional sports team in South Florida to develop a business relationship with the gay media. It made local headlines in the business section of the Sun-Sentinel, garnering a lot of positive publicity for the team.

I was very grateful back then, and even more so when the team followed that up by sponsoring an HIV awareness night. The Gay Men’s Chorus sung the national anthem and I was invited to throw out the first pitch. Of course, it was a 97 mph fastball right over the corner of the plate.

That was 16 years ago. AIDS was still a disease that frightened many. In fact, when I invited some of the Marlins players to wear AIDS ribbons on their uniform during the game, many refused. 

I do remember one player who stood up and placed it on his lapel. He was Josh Beckett, their ace pitcher from Spring, Texas. He would go on to become a World Series champion the following year.

“We should be fighting the disease, not people with it,” he said. Josh was ahead of the times, but of course, he was right. Times change and we do with them. 

Last week, at the Stonewall Festival in the Manors, AIDS had less recognition than all the straight candidates marching in the parade with their 13 year old daughters.  There were probably more straight office seekers than gay ones. Well, I understand why. 

The straight community realizes the power of the gay vote. They also need to see advertising their candidacies in a credible journalistic forum like SFGN will give them not only a judicious platform, but also a lot more bang for their buck.

So too should the Marlins and other professional entities recognize the value of the gay dollar, and reaching potential fans through our paper is one excellent vehicle that will hit them a home run.

Get over any stereotypical preconceptions that gay men and women do not love sports. 

It’s more than the dollar that counts, though. When a pro sports team markets to the gay community, they are also sending a message to every jock that ever made a locker room joke about "fags" that “Gay is OK.” That matters a lot to us.

As the LGBT community has grown here in the Sunshine State, we have seen also the emergence of diverse LGBT leagues, from ice hockey to flag football teams. One of the benefactors of the Stonewall entry fee was the community’s own Gold Coast Derby Girls.

The sports enthusiasm of the LGBT community has been heralded in SFGN. We have done front-page features on our gay swimming teams, bowling leagues and the international gay Olympics. 

For the past 20 years or longer, Fort Lauderdale has sponsored the “Hurricane Showdown,” a nationally accredited gay softball tournament every Thanksgiving. 

The gay community is not composed of wimps. My god, we even play Polo! Heck, my business partner for this newspaper disappeared from the offices the moment World Cup play started last week. 

We got money. We love sports. We go to games. Sports teams should be reaching out to us religiously, preferably without a Bible in their hands.

The bottom line is that gays play ball. The NBA and NHL know this so well, and lead the professional sports leagues in outreach to the gay community. They wisely recognize the value of our support, the discretionary dollars we have to spend, and the enthusiasm we can generate for their local franchises.

Some day, Lewis Brinson will be a star. We want to be there when he is. It takes time to build from the ground up. The gay community understands those challenges. 

Derek Jeter, we can make that happen here. Just hire me to announce a few games for the next few years. Actually, better than me announcing Marlins games, it would be nicer if Major League Baseball expanded its diversity initiative to create a national Gay Pride Night in every ballpark on the same, single night. That would be a marketing home run for the LGBT community.  I won’t even require every team to wear a rainbow uniform, but what a national festival of colors that would be!


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