Tampa Bay teams have to show their hearts

by Gary Shelton on June 16, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays

Archer takes his role in the community seriously./ERIC TILLOTSON

Archer takes his role in the community seriously./ERIC TILLOTSON

Thursday, 6 a.m.

They want your money. They want your allegiance. They want new ballparks and improved ones or they want new cities. They want you to understand when they are not very good, and they want you to look the other way when they are not very smart.

They want you to pay full prices for practice games. They want you to understand when they gut the payroll. They want you to believe when they draft by throwing darts at a board.

They are the sports teams of Florida, and for the most part, they take a lot better than they give. I've always said that a pro sports owner was the guy who can tell you the serial numbers on your own dollar bills.

Every now and then, however, and you can't count on it happening, the teams show a bit of heart. And then, it's good.

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Archer helped Good Sports donate sports equipment./ERIC TILLOTSON

Archer helped Good Sports donate sports equipment./ERIC TILLOTSON

To start with, let's start with the Rays and the way they have handled Pride Night. In this time, some of the pride can be in the way you look at your baseball team.

Look, this isn't going to be a rant in favor of gay rights. But it's 2016, and most of us are related to, or know, someone who is gay. Big deal.

I had a debate with a reader a few years ago after I wrote a column about Michael Sam saying that it didn't matter if he could rush the passer. The reader took great umbrage about a gay player who might be on his team, but he didn't seem to care if players slept around on their wives.

But given the tragedy in Orlando this week, the Rays did about all they could do. They lowered the prices and pledged to give 100 percent of the proceeds to the victims' fund. They made parking cheap. They are donating their 50-50 raffle. They will have donation centers in the stadium.

Nice gestures, all of them.

I'm not one of those who pounds his chest normally about the healing properties of sports. Yes, it can mean a lot if the tragedy is great enough (Kennedy's assassination, 9-11, etc.). But I doubt seriously that a family who lost a loved one in Orlando is going to be placated by a ballgame, any more than the survivors of Columbine or Sandy Hook would have been. Yeah, it's a nice gesture, and it beats doing nothing. But I fear the pain is too great to erase it with a double into the gap.

Still, a team does what it can do. Given the choice of making things better or doing nothing, the Rays made things better. A bit.

Then there were two different emails that arrived Thursday. One was regarding Chris Archer, who along with Good Sports, donated $11,000 worth of sports equipment. The other was about Evan Longoria, who will kick off the “Reading with the Rays'' program in Bradenton today. Call them Little Victories.

Of course, no one does more than the Lightning and Jeff Vinik's “Community Heroes'' program. Vinik has given more than $11.5 million to more than 300 non-profit organizations. Partially because of that program, the Lightning have become the most popular team in Tampa Bay.

Then there are the Tampa Bay Bucs, who raised $40,000 for the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Again, a team does what it can do.

When the Bucs were good, it was hard not to see the good things that Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch did. Now, Vincent Jackson works with the military and Gerald McCoy gives. Maybe more stories will come to light at the team gets better.

This is when a sports team is at its best, when it matters most. A team has to allow itself to care. It has to stand for something. Teams are big are talking about how they are here to make a difference in the community. Well, show us. Help someone. Help a lot of someones.

For now, it's a start.

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