The Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees baseball teams took the unusual step on Thursday of turning their Twitter accounts over to disseminating facts about gun violence in the wake of the recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.
Instead of flashing information about pitching performances or the latest home run distances, both teams’ Twitter feeds presented facts about gun violence during the course of their game in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Rays communications staff members led the effort to research and vet the facts, an initiative assisted by Jason Zillo, the Yankees’ vice president of communications, who was in St. Petersburg for the four-game series, along with other members of the Yankees’ communications team. Each fact was followed by a citation.
“There are things that are bigger than baseball,” Mr. Zillo said. “It’s good that we can use our platform to share facts that are important to everyone, no matter whom you root for, or whether you are a sports fan at all.”
The Yankees’ Twitter account has 3.6 million followers. The Rays’ has about 650,000. The teams also posted the facts on their Instagram stories. The Yankees have 2.9 million followers on that platform, while the Rays have 430,000.
One item noted that firearms were the leading cause of death for American children and teens in 2020, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another pointed out that about 12 veterans per day die by firearm suicide, according to a study published by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Rays, whose team colors are blue and white, changed the background banner of their Twitter account to orange, which is frequently used for gun violence awareness and prevention efforts, with a banner that read, “End Gun Violence.” Brooks Raley, a pitcher for the Rays, attended the school in Uvalde where the shooting occurred.
The Rays said they donated $50,000 to Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization that promotes gun violence prevention, and said they were working with the group to “amplify facts about gun violence in America.”
“The most recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde have shaken us to the core,” the Rays said in a statement on their feed. “The Tampa Bay Rays are mourning the heartbreaking tragedies that took the lives of innocent children and adults.”
Twenty-one people, including 19 children, were killed by a gunman at an elementary school in Uvalde on Tuesday. It happened less than two weeks after a gunman in Buffalo killed 10 people at a supermarket in a racist attack.
Mr. Zillo said the Yankees would be expanding their anti-gun violence efforts during their next homestand, which is scheduled to start Tuesday, specifically to address gun violence in the Bronx, where the team plays.
“As citizens of the world, it’s hard to process these shootings and just slip back into a regular routine,” Mr. Zillo added in a text message. “For one night, we wanted to reflect and draw attention to statistics that carry so much more significance and weight than batting average.”
An hour after the Yankees first posted that they would post messages about gun violence rather than game details, the item had over 70,000 likes, which Mr. Zillo said was among their highest rate for any post.
At least one other professional sports league has tried to use its weight to call attention to gun violence. In 2015, NBA stars, with the backing of the league, appeared in ads sponsored by Everytown for Gun Safetyafter a series of shootings.
The Yankees have taken steps to address mass shootings in the past, led by then owner George Steinbrenner, the patriarch of the family that still owns the team, which is run by his son, Hal Steinbrenner. In 2007, the Steinbrenners donated $1 million to a Virginia Tech University memorial fund after a mass shooting there, and the next year the Yankees played an exhibition game at the school’s Blacksburg, Va., campus.