Controversy brewed at Saturday's San Diego Padres game when a recording of a woman singing the national anthem played instead of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus, which had just taken the field to sing on Pride Night at Petco Park.
A technical error silenced the chorus, which was scheduled to perform the Star Spangled Banner at the game between the Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers. The chorus was set to sing along to a pre-recorded track of the national anthem.
Saturday marked Pride Night at Petco Park, an event hosted in conjunction with the San Diego Pride organization's annual "Out at the Park" event to support the LGBT community. The chorus performed at Pride Night last year without issue.
In a statement posted on Facebook, the chorus said 100 volunteer singers took to the field for the ballpark performance, but an audio recording of a woman singing the anthem played over the loudspeaker — not the track the chorus had expected.
The chorus stood quietly on the field as the song played. The mix-up meant the chorus did not get to perform along with its own track, as scheduled.
"There was a really long pause — it took longer than normal. Then, all of a sudden, the music started but it was a young woman singing instead of the chorus and it just didn’t stop," Bob Lehman, executive director of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus, told NBC 7 on Sunday.
Lehman said the chorus thought the audio mistake would be fixed on the spot, but the wrong track continued to play.
"They just played the entire song and we just stood there," he recounted.
He said the group didn't know what to do next. Out of respect for the national anthem, the chorus sang along with the woman's voice track.
"Nobody could hear us," Lehman lamented.
He said the chorus was humiliated. Many of them had invited loved ones to the game to watch the Pride Night performance.
The moment was captured on cellphone video by a fan attending the game and posted to Facebook.
The SDGMC addressed the incident on its Facebook page Sunday morning in a post titled "You Sing Like a Girl," which questioned the San Diego Padres’ relationship with the LGBT community and called for a "full and transparent investigation" by the Padres, Major League Baseball, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office and the city of San Diego Human Relations Commission.
According to a statement released by the San Diego Padres on Saturday night, the incident was the result of a technical glitch in the control room.
"This evening, during the pregame ceremony, a mistake was made in the Petco Park control room that prevented the San Diego Gay Men's Chorus from performing the National Anthem as scheduled. We apologize to anyone in the ballpark who this may have offended, and have reached out to the Chorus to express our deep regret for the error," the statement said.
A Padres spokesperson at Petco Park told NBC 7 the error was an "unfortunate and regrettable mistake." Once the wrong track started, the control room made a "heat of the moment" decision to let the song continue playing so as not to cut off the national anthem for the crowd, the spokesperson said.
The Padres followed up with a statement Sunday night saying an internal investigation "found no evidence of malicious intent" but that "we have terminated our relationship with the third-party contractor who was responsible for the error, and taken disciplinary action against our employee who was responsible for the game production on Saturday."
The team apologized and has invited the chorus back to Petco Park to perform again. The chorus, for its part, responded to the Padres' statement saying it was "pleased" and looking forward to "a constructive resolution to this issue."
"Our hope is to positively improve the relationship between the Padres and San Diego's LGBT community," the chorus said.
The San Diego Padres is the first MLB organization to hold a "Pride Night" in support of the LGBT community.
Former San Diego Padres player Billy Bean, who is openly gay and serves as MLB’s first Ambassador for Inclusion, released a statement Sunday addressing the incident, saying he does not think the Padres purposely meant to embarrass the chorus:
"This past Saturday night, it was very unfortunate that there was a technical error during the National Anthem at Petco Park. However, I want to convey that my former team, the San Diego Padres, have supported our inclusion message at MLB without hesitation even before my return to baseball in 2014. They have led by example by inviting me, numerous times, to speak with their players and employees. I have also worked very closely with their owner Ron Fowler and team CEO Mike Dee, and I can assure you that they have made every effort to include the LGBT community, and champion equality in MLB for each and every one of us. I’m so proud of the Padres organization for hosting an LGBT Pride event during the season, and I would hope that the community recognizes that error and intent are not related."
According to the SDGMC website, the group is one of the 10 largest GALA choruses in the U.S. and features more than 130 singers.
The original chorus was first founded in San Diego in 1992 and presented its first concert one year later. In December 2009, the original SDGMC and the Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego merged to create the new San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus.
The group’s mission statement is "to create a positive musical experience through exciting performances which engage our audiences, build community support and provide a dynamic force for social change."