The Chicago White Sox will mark the 40th anniversary of Disco Demolition night with a free T-shirt and an appearance from radio DJ Steve Dahl.
The Major League Baseball team plans to distribute 10,000 free commemorative T-shirts at Guaranteed Rate Field on Thursday, reports veteran Chicago blogger Robert Feder, but the promotional night it commemorates has a dark history.
Leading up to July 12th, 1979, Steve Dahl—a radio DJ who had been fired from a previous station employer due to a format change towards disco—stirred up anti-disco sentiment by destroying disco records on the air. Eventually, station reps and the White Sox collaborated on a promotional event dubbed Disco Demolition night, in which fans could trade a disco record for deeply discounted admission to a double-header of games against the Detroit Tigers.
The White Sox had been averaging about 18,000 attendees a game, but 70,000 turned up for Disco Demolition night. Dahl blew up a box of disco records center field between the two games, then a riot broke out leading to destruction of property and forfeiture of the second game.
Vince Lawrence, then a teenage usher at Comiskey Park (the White Sox' former home), told NPR he noticed the records fans brought weren't strictly disco records, but also "Tyrone Davis records, friggin' Curtis Mayfield records and Otis Clay records. Records that were clearly not disco."
Disco Demolition night "came to be seen as a not-so-subtle attack against disco's early adopters: blacks, Latinos and gay people," NPR writes.
Dahl, who will throw out the first pitch on Thursday, denies these undertones. "I'm worn out from defending myself [from accusations of being] a racist homophobe for fronting Disco Demolition. This event was not racist, not anti-gay. It is important to me that this is viewed from the lens of 1979," Dahl told Chicago magazine in an oral history of Disco Demolition. "That evening was a declaration of independence from the tyranny of sophistication… We were just kids pissing on a musical genre."
Tuesday afternoon, Pitchfork posted the following statement from the Chicago White Sox:
This year's Disco Demolition T-Shirt giveaway was intended to recognize the anniversary of a historic off-the-field moment that has been connected to the organization over the past 40 years. It is a recognizable part of Chicago baseball history. We recently were made aware of comments criticizing the T-Shirt giveaway and are in the process of reviewing feedback. We have been communicating with our community partners who have raised concerns to make it clear that the intent of this giveaway was only meant to mark the historical nature of the night 40 years later. We have reinforced that the White Sox organization is dedicated to advocating for a safe, welcoming ballpark experience for all people and communities, and will continue to engage in important, informative discussions with our fans and partners to build toward positive change through sports. We remain proud of our franchise's longstanding record on advocating for inclusion and diversity.Chicago house music magazine 5 Mag has published an op-ed decrying a celebration of Disco Demolition during Pride month.
Photo credit: Paul Natkin