Team owner Jeffrey Loria announced that he is, "very proud of my team's logo, whatever makes it happy... makes me happy. I just want the logo to be itself. To live its life. That is all me and Michael (Hill, team general manager) want."
The Marlins announcement was made possible by a recent proclimation from Major League Baseball commissioner, Bud Selig. Selig declared during the 2011 All-Star festivities that the league would no longer enforce it's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for logos and team mascots. The policy was originally promulgated by former commissioner Peter Ueberroth in 1988, and while many Major League Baseball (M.L.B.) logos and mascots have been rumored gay in the intervening years, the Marlins logo will become the first openly gay and active mascot in the sport.
A History of Discrimination
M.L.B. has a long and unfortunate history of discrimination. Racial segregation was strictly maintained until 1947, when Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Boston Red Sox, the last team to field an African-American, did not become integrated for another 20 years.
Discrimination towards gay logos and mascots was even more pervasive and overt. While fielding African-American players usually provided immediate competitive benefits, teams had little incentive or desire to support gay logos and mascots. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a former Federal judge most famous for banning members of the 1919 Chicago "Black Sox" who allegedly conspired to fix the World Series, proved to be a determined and consistent enemy to integration. Landis also made it clear his sport would not permit any homosexuality among its logos and mascots.
"The abominations of sodomy and perversity must never be allowed to insinuate itself in our mascot-ry (sic) and insignia," began Landis in a 1923 open-letter sent to every M.L.B. front office. "It would corrupt and erode the moral foundation of our national pastime, subjecting our Christian fans, players, and team officials to a harmful, sinful influence." Landis proceeded to require all logos and mascots to consist exclusively of block letters, script writing, and anthropomorphic "baseball-headed men of upstanding character."
Gay logos and mascots were forced into silence, fearing permanent expulsion, or worse, for well over half of a century. "Mr. Red", a popular and beloved team mascot of the Cincinnati Reds, was found dead in his home in 1972 after commiting suicide. While Mr. Red was famously accused by Senator Joesph McCarthy of being "one of twenty-three known Communist mascots in professional sports," other friends and family members expressed a belief that the kind and genial Red was in fact a homosexual, and the anxiety and shame resulting from the policy of M.L.B. largely drove him to his death. "Mr. Red was a good, decent man," recounts a contemporary mascot, Chief Wahoo, "he deserved better from his sport. He deserved better from all of us."
M.L.B. policy began to soften in the decades to come, as gay and lesbian activist groups repeatedly protested outside of ballparks, bringing the sport large amounts of negative publicity. In 1988, commissioner Ueberroth, with the support of several liberal M.L.B. marketing departments, announced a "don't ask, don't tell" policy for all M.L.B. mascots and logos. Mascots and logos could not openly express their homosexuality; however, they would not be screened for homosexuality, as long as they maintained "complete discretion".
Ueberroth, who was the top executive of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, privately disliked the policy. Ueberroth's Olympic background was far more liberal than most M.L.B. marketing departments. Olympic mascots, unlike M.L.B. mascots, were predominantly gay, and quite open about it. Every Olympic mascot since Amik the Beaver, from Montreal's 1976 Summer Olympic games, had been openly gay. This included Sam the Bald Eagle, the 1984 Summer Olympic mascot, who Ueberroth considered a personal friend. Ueberroth believed the "don't ask, don't tell" policy to be a necessary, and hopefully only temporary, compromise. Instead, the policy lasted nearly a quarter century.
Gay Mascots and Logos In Other Sports
While the Marlin's logo will become the first openly gay, active logo, in major professional sports, other retired logos and mascots in various other sports have previously announced their homosexuality. The Pittsburgh Mauler of the United States Football League announced its homosexuality in 1992.
"I am so excited for the Florida Marlins. Don't get me wrong, it took far too long for an environment to develop to make this announcement possible, but this is an important first step. I think we are coming to a day where every gay logo will be comfortable to live as it chooses. Major League Baseball has taken the first step, and the Florida Marlins logo deserves so much credit for the dignity and bravery it has shown."
The former logos of the U.S.F.L., which folded in 1987, have been at the forefront of gay logo rights. Four other U.S.F.L. logos, including the Portland Breakers, Birmingham Stallions, Denver Gold, and New Jersey Generals, have also announced they are gay.
"Living as an openly gay logo was not an option in 1985," explains the Portland Breakers logo. "It's our responsibilty as retired gay logos to help the gay and lesbian mascots and logos of today. It's one thing for a retired logo to be out, or a gay Arena Football logo, but this is huge. An openly gay Major League Baseball logo? I couldn't even imagine that in 1985."
LEFT: The logos of the United States Football League, five of which have announced they are gay.
"25 years later, I know a couple other U.S.F.L. logos who are still not comfortable living openly gay," continued the Breakers logo, "Me, the Gold, and the Mauler, we've tried to persuade them, but we respect their privacy. Even in 2011, it's not easy. Hopefully the Marlins will be an inspiration to others."
Gay mascots are also far more prevalent in college, but the more liberal atmosphere that allows the Hawai'i Rainbow Warrior and Herbie the Husker to roam college sidelines hasn't spread to professional sports. "I was just talking with (fellow gay Big 10 mascot) Goldy Gopher about when we would see the first professional gay mascot or logo," says Herbie the Husker. "I think this will be the first of many. We all support the Marlins logo. We will support all gay logos."
LEFT: Herbie the Husker, the openly gay mascot of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. Herbie the Husker legally married the Stanford Tree in 2009.
"We need to do a better job as college mascots and logos of educating sports fans about on-going discrimination. Every sports fans has rooted for a team with a gay logo or mascot at some point, believe me. If people knew how many logos and mascots of the teams they love are gay, they would see things in a whole new way."
The Long Road Ahead
The announcement by the Florida Marlins logo has not been met with absolute support. There will undoubtably be fans who taunt the logo, inappropriate catcalls from road crowds, fellow mascots who turn a cold shoulder.
LEFT: Mr. Met, with his family in 2001. Also pictured is his ex-wife, Mrs. Met, who made numerous accusation regarding Mr. Met's sexuality in her 2007 autobiography.
The most vocal critic of gay mascots and logos has been Mr. Met, who has worked for various right-wing mascot groups, and has been involved in the campaigns of numerous Republican presidential candidates, from Richard Nixon to George H.W. Bush. Met released a brief statement that he was "disappointed" with the Marlins announcement, and that he hopes Major League Baseball will finally consider his amendment to the Major League Baseball bylaws that would ban gay logos and mascots.
Mr. Met has been far less vocal as a critic of gay mascots and logos since the explosive accusations made by his ex-wife, Mrs. Met, that he was involved in several illicit, homosexual relationships with other mascots at the time of their divorce in 2005. In her 2007 book, Mrs. Met claims to have found numerous explicit text message from several other mascots to her then-husband's cell phone.
Mr. Met has denied all allegations in the book.
Most discouragingly, criticism has also come from within the organization, with new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen claiming he is, "disgusted" by the new logo.
Acceptance will not be universal, but the Marlins logo stands proudly by its decision. "This was not the easy decision," says the Marlins logo, "but, it's the right decision."