Decades later, legacy and meaning of ‘Disco Demolition’ up for debate

CHICAGO — While the White Sox are planning to recognize the 40th anniversary of one of the team's most infamous moments Thursday, critics say the Disco Demolition destroyed more than music, and is not something to celebrate.

On July 12, 1979, "Disco Demolition Night" went from a popular radio promotion to one of the most infamous events in professional sports.

Looking to put people in the seats, the White Sox invited radio shock jock Steve Dahl — then just 24 years old — to preside over a stunt where he would blow up disco records on the field, all in the name of rock 'n roll.

Steve Dahl on the field as host of Disco Demolition Night (Photo: Paul Natkin)

The promotion whipped the over-packed crowd of mostly young men into a frenzy, turning into a near-riot as hundreds rushed the field, and some lit fires in the stands and on the grass.

Photographer Paul Natkin captured the chaos from a front row seat, and the hood of the jeep Dahl drove onto the field as part of the promotion.

Then the announcer for the White Sox, Harry Caray was said to have hated the stunt because the Sox were forced to forfeit the second game of the double header against the Detroit Tigers. But baseball was secondary, as the night became a part of Chicago lore and a symbol of broader cultural change in the nation.

The White Sox planned to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night Thursday by having Dahl throw out the first pitch, and give away t-shirts to fans. But while what happened at Comiskey Park decades ago remains a cultural touchstone, not everyone believes its worth celebrating.

With the perspective of four decades,  Chicago-based music producer and Sox fan Giovanni Taverna says it’s inappropriate for the Sox to celebrating what he says destroyed more than music.

"That night has been defined racist, homophobic because disco music was mainly connected to black and Latino communities in the U.S., and to the gay communities," Taverna said.

Dahl, who is now in the National Radio Hall of Fame told the Chicago Tribune:

“We blew up disco records, made fun of the Bee Gees and ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ It goes no deeper than that. Perception is not always reality. Especially when that perception uses the prism of today to look at events 40 years ago. Sometimes a stupid radio promotion is just a stupid radio promotion.”

In a statement, the Sox say they’re committed to diversity and inclusion, and all people are welcome at the ballpark.

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