Major League Baseball investigating San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus controversy at Padres’ game


Major League Baseball said Monday it was investigating why a San Diego Gay Men's Chorus performance at the Saturday San Diego Padres game was drowned out by recorded music.

The San Diego Padres said late Sunday that they had disciplined an employee and stopped working with a contractor who the team said was involved.

The choir's Saturday performance was drowned out by a recording of a woman singing the national anthem that was broadcast in the stadium.

The incident generated outrage, partly because the chorus was singing during "Out at the Park," a special LGBT pride event at the stadium. Members of the San Diego Gay Men's Chorus accused the Padres of homophobia and called for an investigation by the team as well as Major League Baseball.

MLB spokesman Pat Courtney told the San Diego Union-Tribune that it was also gathering information.

“It’s difficult to say a timetable,” Courtney told the paper. “It depends how long it is, in terms of where the information takes you. The plan is and the goal is, as expeditiously as possible.”

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The Padres said in a statement that they had conducted an internal probe and concluded that there was "no evidence of malicious intent" by any of the individuals involved in the mishap, but the organization faulted personnel for not immediately intervening and correcting the situation.

"We once again sincerely apologize to members of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus, their families and those who came out to support their Pride Night performance," the team said in a statement. "The Padres organization is proud of our longstanding commitment to inclusion – within both our sport and our community. We deeply regret that a mistake on our part has called this into question, but accept full responsibility.”

Before the game began, the nearly 100-member choir was ushered to the outfield, wearing matching black dress shirts. The chorus was supposed to sing along with a pre-recorded track, which amplifies their voices for the large venue. Instead, the solo female voice was piped through the stadium.

“We were like, ‘What’s going on?’” said Michael Pluff, a member of the choir for two years. Others said they were shocked and embarrassed.

“The song finished and nothing happened. Nobody spoke,” said Bob Lehman, executive director of the chorus. “We didn’t know what to do.”

Without explanation, Padres staff ushered the group off the field. Many fans applauded, others heckled and yelled derogatory barbs, choir members said.

One fan mocked the singers, saying, “That’s the best you’ve ever sounded." Another yelled, “'You sang like a girl,’ which to a gay man is pretty insulting,” Lehman said.

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Lehman and other chorus members began wondering whether the mishap was a cruel prank to drown out the voices of gay men on a night commemorating equality for gays and lesbians.

“What should have been a night of joy and celebration at Petco Park last night instead turned into a nightmare raising serious questions about homophobia within the San Diego Padres organization and its relationship with the LGBT community,” the chorus said in a statement posted on Facebook early Sunday.

By late Sunday, however, Lehman said he saw what happened as an accident and applauded the team for taking disciplinary action.

The Padres' chief executive officer, Mike Dee, called Lehman to explain what happened. Lehman said Dee told him that a contractor did not load the choir's recording, so the previous night's recording played instead. A Padres employee, Lehman said, failed to "hit the kill switch" when the wrong music played.  Dee also invited Lehman to visit the sound booth and see the exact process, he said.

"They are just heartbroken this kind of thing happened," said Lehman, noting that he and Dee plan to meet in the next few days.

Pluff, another chorus member, also applauded the team's statement but said that internal investigations in companies can often be biased toward a specific outcome.

"A more independent investigation would be nice and appropriate," said Pluff, 36, a San Diego resident who works in the defense industry. "They need to do something more visible and something that’s going to be publicized a little greater than a quick tweet or paragraph."

Billy Bean, the vice president of social responsibility and inclusion for Major League Baseball, said the "technical error" was "very unfortunate" and praised the Padres for supporting inclusiveness.

"They have made every effort to include the LGBT community and champion equality in MLB for each and every one of us," said Bean, who publicly came out as gay in 1999.

A Padres spokeswoman defended the team's record of working with the LGBT community, noting that it was the first team in Major League Baseball  to host Pride Night in 2001. | Twitter: @MattHjourno | Twitter: @tonybarboza


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9:57 p.m. May 22: This article was updated with staff copy.

2:09 p.m. May 23: This article was updated with additional comments.

This article was originally published at 12:49 p.m. May 22.