Sports struggles with how to properly honor victims of tragedy

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tampa Bay Rays players wear "We Are Orlando" T-shirts, in memory of the victims of the fatal shooting at the Pulse Orlando night club, as they warm up before a game against the San Francisco Giants.

Detroit — Professional sports is serious business.

But, at some point, a game's still just a game — and there seems to be way too many harsh, sad reminders, most recently the tragedy in Orlando.

The Tigers on Monday night, in their first game back at home since a gunman a week ago took the lives of 49 people inside a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, held a moment of silence before their series opener against the Seattle Mariners.

Of the desire to do something, "We train right there," explained Ron Colangelo, Tigers vice president of communications, speaking of the Tigers' spring training home of Lakeland — located less than an hour from Orlando.

Tragedies of violence are treated differently by just about every sports team, from coast to coast, as no team seems to have the right answer of how much or little it should be involved in the national narrative.

The Tigers are the only of the four major pro teams in Detroit to make direct mention of the Orlando attacks. They're also the only team in-season.

The Pistons on Twitter retweeted one player, shared a candlelight picture posted by the Orlando Magic, and retweeted the NBA's statement.

"We retweeted the NBA's tweet as we do in many cases to go with one voice," said Cletus Lewis, Pistons' senior director of public relations.

The Red Wings made no mention of the Orlando tragedy on Twitter, though to be fair, they were extremely busy over the last week-plus with the memorial and funeral of legend Gordie Howe. They also retweeted a message from the NHL, which spoke for all teams.

In the past, the Red Wings have recognized tragedies in Aurora, Colorado, and Paris.

The Lions, meanwhile, made no mention of Orlando on Twitter, but offered "thoughts and prayers" following the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, and retweeted players' reactions to the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

In the past, the Tigers and Pistons also made mention of Newtown — the Tigers have a minor-league team that plays nearby — while the Pistons recognized Boston at the time, and the Red Wings paid tribute to victims of the Aurora, Colorado, shooting in 2012 and the Paris bombing in 2015.

The Pistons did make coach Stan Van Gundy, a former coach in Orlando, available to the media to discuss the tragedy.

"Both Boston and Newtown happened under previous supervision of the website and its social channels," said Ben Manges, Lions' director of corporate communications and digital content. "Since the arrival of new staff in 2014, we've avoided posts around such incidents because we don't feel it is our place to comment on tragedies outside of our local market.

"Our current protocol for those situations is to cancel scheduled posts and go silent for the remainder of the day, which we did for both the Paris and Orlando tragedies."

When a tragedy hits closer to home, sports teams, understandably, give a larger, more emotional tribute.

The Tampa Bay Rays used its Pride Night to honor the victims, wearing old Orlando Rays hats, and drawing a sellout. Orlando City's Major League Soccer team stopped its match in the 49th minute, to honor the deaths of 49 victims.

Detroit City FC, the semi-professional soccer team that plays its home games out of Hamtramck, also held a moment of silence before its game Sunday, June 12 — just hours after the shooting took place.

Two years ago, Detroit City FC also became the first soccer team in the United States to wear gay-right jerseys, which were later auctioned off with. The proceeds went to the Ruth Ellis Center, a homeless shelter for gay youth.

"There is so much going on in our world today, we could stop every match for one reason or another, so we have always narrowed our focus to events that affect our soccer community," said Alex Wright, co-owner of Detroit City FC. "However, the severity of the events in Orlando compelled us to do something that day.

"A founding value of Detroit City FC is inclusion. And for that reason, we have always supported equality for the LGBTQ community."

The website recently wrote an article criticizing the major pro sports leagues and many of their teams for ignoring the LGBT aspect of the Orlando tragedy while carrying out tributes to the victims and their families.

The Tigers made specific mention of the LGBT community during their tribute Monday, and have hosted a Pride Night — albeit unofficially — the last two years. The Pistons have hosted Pride Night the last two years, as well. The Red Wings don't appear to have hosted such a night, while the Lions have not and have no plans to, which is not uncommon in the NFL, where theme nights aren't a major part of the scene because each team only plays eight home games a season.