St. Louis Cardinals: Lance Berkman Christian Day controversy

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 3: Lance Berkman #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals talks with trainers during a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium on August 3, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 3: Lance Berkman #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals talks with trainers during a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium on August 3, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images) /

Former St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder and first baseman Lance Berkman was a controversial choice as the featured speaker for the July 30, 2017 Christian Day at the Ballpark.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ choice of Lance Berkman as their featured Christian Day speaker made the national news. Many fans and LGBTQ advocates objected to Berkman’s selection. Other fans expressed support for the Cardinals’ choice.

The controversy centers around Berkman’s use of his public platform as a celebrity to advocate against a Houston proposition which would have provided additional protections against discrimination based on gender, race, religion, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Berkman objected to the portion of the proposed law that would have made it legal for transgender individuals to use the restroom which corresponded with their gender identity. After the proposition was defeated, Berkman was quoted a USA Today article as saying,

"“To me, tolerance is the virtue that’s killing this country. We’re tolerant of everything.”"

In spite of the objections of some fans, Berkman was featured by Fox Sports Midwest in the booth during the game and a televised pre-game interview, in addition to his speaking role as part of the post-game festivities.

The St. Louis Cardinals defended their choice of Berkman in a statement released on June 12th, 2017.

"The Cardinals have hosted a Christian Day at the ballpark for nearly three decades. The post-game event usually features a well-known keynote speaker (often a former Cardinal or professional athlete) who talks about his or her experience of being a practicing Christian in the public arena. Lance Berkman participated in Christian Day when he was a Cardinals player, and we welcome him back this year to discuss his faith.As an organization, the Cardinals have always been committed to bringing like-minded groups together to share in the unifying experience of Cardinals baseball. We are an inclusive organization with a social responsibility to be welcoming to all types of people and organizations. We continue to try and reach out to every part of our community, and have hosted a variety of themed events like Christian Day, Jewish Community Night, Catholic Family Night, Bosnian Heritage Night, Fiesta Cardenales, and many others. We are excited to announce that we will be hosting our first Pride Night later this season (details to follow shortly) which will bring members of the LGBT Community together to enjoy Cardinals baseball."

The subject of transgender rights was recently thrust back into the national spotlight, thanks to the Twitter comments of President Donald Trump.

Fan reaction to Berkman’s appearance on the telecast has been mixed. I don’t want to call anyone out, so I’m not going to share any specific tweets, but the reactions I read on Twitter mostly fell into the following categories:

  • “I don’t care.”
  • “It’s great to see Lance Berkman again. He’s my favorite. Did you hear he’s a high school baseball coach now?”
  • “Why are people mad at Lance Berkman?”
  • “Lance Berkman doesn’t care that people are mad at him.”
  • “People hate Lance Berkman because of his Christian values.”
  • “I’m disappointed in Lance Berkman.”
  • “People should be able to separate Lance Berkman the player from Lance Berkman the person.”

The last three comments from that list are primarily what motivated me to write about this subject. I followed the St. Louis Cardinals closely from the time I was old enough to really understand the game, through my last year of high school.

After high school, college life and blackout restrictions made following the team a challenge and I only caught a game here and there, most prominent in memory being the 2004 sweep of the team by the Boston Red Sox.

I, of course, watched a team of players I only sort-of recognized win the 2006 World Series, but it wasn’t until 2011, when I moved back into the St. Louis Cardinals viewing area, that I really started following the team again.

Lance Berkman cemented himself as part of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Pantheon in 2011. Berkman kept the Cardinals’ game 6 World Series hopes alive with a game tying RBI single in the 10th inning. Berkman was one of the runners David Freese drove in, with his 9th inning game tying triple.

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If Berkman didn’t get on base in the 9th, or drive in Jon Jay in the 10th, Freese’s heroic game winning,11th inning, home run wouldn’t have happened.

Berkman was also a key contributor in the 2011 regular season. Berkman slashed .301/.412/.547 with 31 HR and 94 RBI in the regular season. That combined with his post-season heroics earned him Comeback Player of the Year honors.

Without Lance Berkman, the St. Louis Cardinals probably wouldn’t have been World Series Champions in 2011. Without Lance Berkman, the Cardinals probably wouldn’t have been in the World Series at all. It’s no wonder that even though he only had one good season in Baseball Heaven, Berkman is beloved by many fans.

Game 6 remains the best baseball game I have ever watched. Lance Berkman was my favorite player on that 2011 St. Louis Cardinals team, which included greats like Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, and Yadier Molina. I even have a Lance Berkman shirsey hanging in my closet at home.

I still remember tearing up a little when I saw the giant billboard proclaiming “The comeback continues!” the first time I visited St. Louis in 2012. By that point, Berkman’s Cardinals career had effectively ended due to a chronic knee injury. I understand the love many St. Louis Cardinals fans have for Lance Berkman. However, I also understand the disappointment.

As a member of the LGBTQ community and supporter of trans rights, I was saddened when I learned of Berkman’s stance on Houston’s Prop 1. The comments Berkman made in defense of his position and in celebration of the defeat of the proposition, were also disappointing.

That disappointment didn’t change my opinion of Berkman as a baseball player, but it definitely dampened my enthusiasm. I still recognize his contributions to the sport, but no longer consider myself a Berkman fan.

However, it was not my personal disappointment in Berkman that most prompted me to write about this subject, but rather my sadness at seeing fans continue to advance the idea that the Berkman controversy is a result of people hating Lance Berkman for expressing his Christian values.

I can only speak for myself, but my disappointment in the organization featuring Berkman on Christian Day has nothing to do with his being a Christian or with hate. I feel like there are many Cardinals and former Cardinals who are Christians who have not used their platform to campaign against the rights of a minority group.

The organization could have chosen to feature any number of Christians, but they chose to feature Berkman. That choice says to me, that at the very least, the organization doesn’t disapprove enough of Berkman’s actions to not give him a place of honor in the organization that isn’t based on his prowess as a baseball player.

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Additionally, I find it troubling that many fans have defended the choice of Berkman by stating that the LGBTQ community is getting their own night, so they should leave our night alone.

Pride Night and Christian night are not diametrically opposed theme nights.

Most of the LGBTQ people I know are Christians. The most outspoken LGBTQ advocate I have met is a gay man who is an Episcopal priest.

LGBTQ people are Christians, Muslims, Jews, agnostics, atheists and pretty much any other flavor of belief or non-belief you can think of.

Religious theme nights and fans should be able to coexist with LGBTQ Pride night. However, in the same way that I would not support Pride Night featuring an anti-Christian speaker, I can not support the featured speaker of Christian theme night being a man who has actively campaigned against the protection of LGBTQ rights and made what I consider to be bigoted statements about members of the community.

I’m not expecting anyone to read this article and change their mind about Lance Berkman or the LGBTQ community. However, I think it’s important that rather than drawing lines in the sand and treating this as an US vs Them issue, we should try to educate ourselves, listen to each other and understand each other’s point of view.

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I hope, in some small way, sharing my point of view on this hot-button topic has helped those who were confused or upset about the controversy understand where I and some other members of the LGBTQ community and our allies are coming from. If not, I’ll try to do better next time.