Major League Baseball is taking a stand against bullying. The 30 clubs will again support Thursday's Spirit Day -- a worldwide, largely social media-based anti-bullying effort targeting LGBTQ youth -- as part of National Bullying Prevention Month.Spirit Day, as well as MLB's Shred Hate initiative -- which aims to combat
Major League Baseball is taking a stand against bullying. The 30 clubs will again support Thursday's Spirit Day -- a worldwide, largely social media-based anti-bullying effort targeting LGBTQ youth -- as part of National Bullying Prevention Month.
Spirit Day, as well as MLB's Shred Hate initiative -- which aims to combat bullying in schools and is now supported by 10 MLB clubs (the Twins, Nationals, Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Phillies, Rangers, Pirates and Red Sox) -- is part of MLB's commitment to using its platform to help reduce incidents of bullying amount young people.
"We want every kid that may love baseball, whether they're LGBTQ youth or not, to feel welcome and safe," said MLB vice president and special assistant to the Commissioner Billy Bean, a former Major League outfielder who is openly gay. "[We want to] let them know that they are a part of the baseball family and we're going to stand up right beside them."
Spirit Day was created in 2010 as a response to LGBTQ youth who have taken their own lives as a result of bullying. Millions wear purple on the day as a sign of support and to speak out against bullying.
Several MLB clubs will be wearing pins or purple clothing in support of Spirit Day, in addition to joining the social media campaign and supporting anti-bullying programing at local schools.
The Brewers will take donations to the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin and match up to $10,000 for the day. Royals mascot Sluggerrr will be on hand at a local Kansas City-area school for an anti-bullying program featuring videos from several Royals players.
"We're the sport of Jackie Robinson," Bean said. "The one unique part of LGBTQ diversity awareness is the LGBTQ is every race, every gender, every age, every nationality. We're a part of everyone. ... The more inclusive that we can become, the more opportunities we're going to have to have the best and brightest people want to work in our sport and participate as athletes, and definitely when they walk through the turnstiles, they're going to feel welcome."
The Red Sox, in partnership with Fenway Sports Group president Mike Gordon's Gordon Family Foundation, have made a $200,000 pledge to support its neighborhood LGBTQ health center, Fenway Health. The donation will benefit Fenway Health's youth, anti-bullying and anti-violence programs, including its Violence Recovery Program and the Sidney Borum, Jr. Health Center, which provides safe, non-judgmental care for young people ages 12-29.
"Spirit Day is meant to bring attention and awareness to bullying among LGBTQ youth, and there is no better way to affect real change related to this kind of abuse -- whether its verbal or physical -- than by supporting the great work being done right in our own neighborhood at Fenway Health," said Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy in a team release. "We are lucky to have a facility in our community with the highest level of leadership and expertise in this area, and are thankful to Mike and Christina Gordon for their partnership, generosity and thoughtfulness around this important topic."
Professional sports and the LGBTQ community haven't always been a natural fit, with inclusion efforts being a relatively new push in the space -- throughout its history baseball has only had two players (Glenn Burke and Bean) come out as gay, and neither did so publicly until after their careers -- but it's been a focus of MLB's in recent years, particularly since Bean's hiring as MLB's first Ambassador of Inclusion in 2014.
Some of MLB's biggest stars -- Michael Trout, Nolan Arenado, Javier Baez, Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge, Francisco Lindor, Sean Doolittle, George Springer and Justin Verlander -- participated in a Shred Hate PSA titled "Join Our Team" for National Bullying Prevention Month.
"Sometimes in the sports world, we're a step or two behind, because we try to build up an image -- all sports do -- of masculinity," Bean said. "And sometimes it takes a great athlete to make a comment that is accepting and really breaks a barrier."
Spirit Day and the Shred Hate campaign will have a unique spotlight today with all eyes on Game 5 of the American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and Astros in Houston, the lone postseason contest scheduled for the day.
"[Thursday] is just one moment, but it's a wonderful moment to allow a very important segment of our society to feel loved and welcomed and supported," Bean said.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.