The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has defended his veto of $35m in funding for a potential spring training site for the Tampa Bay Rays, after the Major League Baseball team used social media to raise awareness about gun violence after mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas.
“I don’t support giving taxpayer dollars to professional sports stadiums,” DeSantis said on Friday, when asked about the veto of the sports complex funding.
“Companies are free to engage or not engage with whatever discourse they want, but clearly it’s inappropriate to be doing tax dollars for professional sports stadiums. It’s also inappropriate to subsidize political activism of a private corporation.”
On 26 May, in the wake of what they called “devastating events that took place in Uvalde, Buffalo and countless other communities across our nation”, the Rays said they would donate $50,000 to the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and use their social media channels to offer facts about gun violence.
The New York Yankees also used social media to address the shootings, during a game between the two teams last week.
On Friday, citing an unnamed source, CNN reported that DeSantis’s decision to block the funding was influenced in part by the Rays’ tweets about the shootings.
In Uvalde, an 18-year-old gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school. The shooting happened days after a gunman shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo.
“In lieu of game coverage and in collaboration with the Tampa Bay Rays, we will be using our channels to offer facts about the impacts of gun violence,” the Yankees said in a statement.
“The devastating events that have taken place in Uvalde, Buffalo and countless other communities across our nation are tragedies that are intolerable.”
The Rays said shootings “cannot become normal”.
Throughout their game last Thursday, both teams posted facts about gun violence on their social media pages, with links to sources and helpline numbers. Neither team posted the result of the game.
Following the Uvalde shooting, Steve Kerr, coach of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, refused to talk about basketball at a pre-game news conference, instead calling for stricter gun control legislation.
DeSantis has made culture war issues including gun control a calling card in his rise to prominence as a possible Republican candidate for president.
On another front on Friday, DeSantis announced that the Special Olympics had dropped a coronavirus vaccine mandate for its forthcoming games in Orlando, after he moved to fine the organization $27.5m for violating a state law against such rules.
The Special Olympics competition in Florida is scheduled to run from 5 to 12 June.
At a news conference in Orlando, DeSantis said: “In Florida, we want all of them to be able to compete. We do not think it’s fair or just to be marginalizing some of these athletes based on a decision that has no bearing on their ability to compete with honor or integrity.”
The Florida health department notified the Special Olympics of the fine in a letter on Thursday that said the organization would be fined $27.5m for 5,500 violations of state law, for requiring proof of coronavirus vaccination for attendees or participants.
Florida law bars businesses from requiring documentation of a Covid-19 vaccination. DeSantis has strongly opposed vaccine mandates and other virus policies endorsed by the federal government.
In a statement on its website, the Special Olympics said people who were registered but unable to participate because of the mandate could now attend.