By Amy Tennery
NEW YORK (Reuters) - As advocates call on Washington to curb violence after mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, its hometown team the Nationals are already taking up the cause.
Professional teams across the United States are jumping into a national debate over gun control, with 75 teams expected to take part in "Wear Orange Weekend," an annual event that kicked off Friday to advocate for an end to gun violence, according to non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety.
While a far cry for the 180-some professional teams spanning baseball, football, basketball, hockey and soccer, it's a considerable step up from last year, when 29 teams took part. Players usually wear a small orange ribbon on their uniforms.
There are also numerous other U.S. organizations devoted to curbing gun violence with which teams can participate.
"This is an unprecedented moment. It's a tipping point," said Angela Ferrell-Zabala, the head of movement building at Everytown for Gun Safety.
"They're also, you know, frankly, meeting their market, meeting the moment."
An 18-year-old gunman killed 19 elementary school children and two teachers with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle last month in Uvalde, days after authorities said a white supremacist killed 10 people at a supermarket in a Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York.
The shootings prompted renewed calls for Congress to curb gun violence though many Republican legislators have said they would resist restrictions on gun ownership.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans said they would support moderate or strong regulations on gun ownership, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll last month, including 53% of Republicans.
The Nationals, Houston Texans and San Antonio Spurs are among the teams working with Everytown for Gun Safety for the first time this year. The organization declined to provide a full list of the participating franchises.
The Nationals on Friday wore T-shirts bearing the message "enough" as they took the field for warmups ahead of their road game in Cincinnati, joining six other D.C.-area teams to "call for an increased commitment to reducing gun violence."
The move came roughly a week after the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays used their social media accounts to publish facts about gun violence in lieu of game coverage.
In the NBA, the Toronto Raptors on Friday started a petition to ask Canadian legislators to join the U.S. in observing the first Friday of June as National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
Days prior, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr refused to talk about basketball at a pre-game news conference, using the time to call for stricter gun control.
On Friday, the Women's National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) said it was partnering with Everytown for a fourth straight year.
"Is there risk involved? Yes. You can isolate your fan base. You can anger your management, you can anger your sponsors," said Amy Bass, a professor of sport studies at Manhattanville College focused on the intersection of sports, culture and politics.
"Or, you know, the reverse can happen: You can empower your fan base."
Bass said the Black Lives Matter activism in the Summer of 2020 created "a new rung on the ladder" for athletes to speak out, calling it a "catalyst" for athletes and teams.
"Summer 2020 launched something in sports," she said.
Coco Gauff, who along with four-times Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka bought the Black Lives Movement to the global stage through tennis two years ago, made an appeal to end gun violence at the French Open Thursday.
"Although we kind of are holding these athletes in really high esteem, they are they also are members of community," said Ferrell-Zabala. "It feels like a natural progression for them to utilize their voices to really dig into this problem."
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)