When the White Sox signed Liam Hendriks in January 2021, general manager Rick Hahn spent a lot of time explaining the club’s complicated option or compromise to buy out his new closest friend’s fourth year of contract. But the assurances Hendriks sought in free agency went beyond money or the team’s immediate chances of wrestling.

“It wasn’t a request,” Hendriks said Athleticism. “It was a simple question: ‘Do you have a Pride Night?’ And if you don’t, it’s going to be something that we have to look at to make sure we can handle it, because I don’t necessarily want to go to a team that doesn’t.

The White Sox front office doesn’t recall it was a long conversation. On the one hand, Hendriks had a litany of causes he wanted to coordinate with White Sox Charities. He casually referenced the “22 (charity) activations” he has in the works with his wife Kristi, and his level of excitement for a “Bark at the Park” event later this season is as palpable as it gets. whatever. And the Sox, of course, already had an annual Pride Night, formalized as an annual event in 2018 and preceded by similar promotions. The Sox had worked since 2012 with Center on Halsted and since 2018 with Howard Brown Health, LGBTQIA+-focused health centers that Hendriks and his wife have visited and donated to since joining the White Sox.

What Hendriks offered, beyond a corporate partnership or a welcome promotion in June, was to be a leader — an active MLB player more than willing to put his name and his face on the team’s Pride efforts. To sum it up in one action: the White Sox fly a Sox-themed Pride flag in front of the field at a guaranteed rate for the occasion. Hendriks wanted to step out in his uniform — and a Howard Brown Health hoodie — and lift it himself. He will do so again when the White Sox host this season’s Pride Night on June 23. That the Sox schedule is in Anaheim later in June for Angels’ Pride Night is a happy accident that Hendriks also recounted from memory.

“It’s something I believe in,” Hendriks said. “The most important thing is to make sure that hopefully it will start more of a trend of other people willing to do it. And then the more people who are willing to do that, the more people are willing to come out publicly and say, “I’m fine with that.” And I hope that will strengthen the resolve of those people who might be about to come out, who might be about to tell their family, their friends, their peers or their teammates. or anything like that and fully embrace that.

The gentle nudge here from Hendriks is implicitly towards other straight cisgender men like him. Hendriks laments the lack of openly gay athletes in MLB, but sees his role in improving this as creating a better environment for him to one day perform and demonstrating that LGBTQIA+ people will be valued and supported in a sporting setting. It seems that the small burst of return his actions in support of the LGBTQIA+ community generate, compared to what an athlete might actually experience, says a lot about how difficult that would still be and why a professional sports setting still contains attitudes that may seem unwelcoming to queer fans too.

“I raised the pride flag at pride night here last year, and some of the DMs and comments I received were just awful,” Hendriks said. “I can only imagine someone doing it and having to go through it themselves already feeling slightly ostracized in a clubhouse where you don’t know where people’s allegiances lie. It’s a scary thought and it’s a scary world.

There is only one MLB team that would have failed Hendriks’ standard of having a Pride Night, which Athleticism‘s Levi Weaver reported is the Texas Rangers. (The Yankees do not have an official Pride party, but do have an annual Pride party Stonewall Scholarship night.) As an organization, the Sox will be in attendance at the City’s Pride Parade in Boystown on June 26, teens from Howard Brown Health and Center on Halsted programs will be in attendance at Pride Night, as well than Pride t-shirt gift to fans. There are no planned hats, jerseys or uniform crests like the Giants or Rays for players to sign up or not, but Hendriks spoke about his positions openly and comfortably from his locker. He doesn’t think his stance would find universal agreement among any MLB team, but said of his teammates, “They would never be antagonistic. They would never be abrupt and say to you, ‘Your life choices are wrong. “or anything like that.

Hendriks doesn’t think such a negotiated peace is such a big demand that it will ever be possible in MLB or in professional sports in this country. He doesn’t think what he does – which he would describe simply as not discriminating against and judging people based on their gender and sexual orientation – is worthy of gratitude.

“For me, it’s just being a decent human being,” Hendriks said. “You’re going to have people that you don’t get along with just based on personality, but race, sexual orientation or something like that should never come into play. They should never be part of the equation of why you have contempt for someone, and that’s something that I think more people talk about, hopefully it normalizes.

By raising the flag both figuratively and literally, Hendriks is trying to play an active role in normalizing the conversation, both on the South side and in the league. He praised the work of MLB Inclusion Ambassador Billy Bean for touring the league and encouraging players to speak up about these issues and being willing to publicly show ally to marginalized groups. Since Hendriks openly views being himself as essential to everything he does, both personally and professionally, he believes players who would join him in expressing themselves and overcoming their fear of blowback would play probably better too.

“I’ve always been very vocal about it,” Hendriks said. “But there has been a bit more representation from teams that are more open to promoting guys who are for, allies and stuff like that. The White Sox are doing a great job. Obviously being able to talk about it with you in a clubhouse in a situation like this is huge, because it was like, ‘OK, we’re doing it but we’re also sweeping it under the rug’ for several years. And now I think it’s gaining momentum.

(Photo by Liam Hendriks in 2021: Courtesy of the Chicago White Sox)