In his 1990 autobiography, “Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball,” Dave Pallone, a gay major league umpire who was quietly fired in 1988 after rumors about his sexual orientation circulated in the baseball world, claimed there were enough major gay league players to create an all-star squad.
Since then, attitudes and laws regarding homosexuality have changed. Personalities from business, politics, entertainment, education, the media, the military and sports have emerged from the closet.
Athletes from three of America’s top five men’s team sports – the NBA, NFL and MLS – stepped out while playing, with NFL player Carl Nassib and NHL prospect Luke Prokop in the summer. 2021. At least 185 LGBTQ athletes, 90% of whom are women, competed in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, more than all previous Summer Olympics combined.
But of the more than 20,000 men who played baseball in the major leagues, none came out publicly while still in uniform.
What took so long? And is baseball ready for its gay Jackie Robinson?
Two ex-players lead the way
“I think we’re getting closer,” Billy Bean, the only openly gay former major league player alive today, told me recently. “We are making incredible progress.”
Bean played for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres for six seasons, hiding his homosexuality from his friends, fans and teammates at a very emotional price. He quit baseball in 1995 and four years later came out. In 2003, he published a book, “Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life In and Out of Major League Baseball,” in which he describes the angst of being a locked up baseball player. In 2014, then commissioner Bud Selig hired Bean as the first Ambassador for Major League Baseball inclusion.
Bean was the second major league baseball player to come out of the closet after hanging up his cleats. The first, Glenn Burke, played for the Dodgers and Oakland Athletics between 1976 and 1979. He came out publicly in 1982 in an Inside Sports article, “The Double Life of a Gay Dodger”.
âIt’s harder to be gay in sports than anywhere else except maybe president,â Burke said. “Baseball is probably the most difficult sport of all.”
In his autobiography, “Out at Home,” published shortly after his death from AIDS in 1995, Burke recalls, “I got used to the ‘queer’ jokes. You heard them everywhere back then.”
No other former major league baseball player – let alone a player still in uniform – has yet followed in Bean and Burke’s footsteps.
A lingering stain of homophobia
What is preventing LGBTQ baseball players from coming out publicly?
Maybe they calculate that the personal or financial costs always outweigh the benefits.
There is a strong stream of fundamentalist Christianity within baseball, which could make life uncomfortable for openly gay players. A study of Bible verses in Twitter biographies of professional athletes concluded that major league baseball players were “by far the most openly religious group of athletes of the four major sports leagues.”
There are also persistent currents of explicit homophobia.
In 2012, Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter told the Los Angeles Times he would be uncomfortable with a gay teammate because “biblically it’s not right.”
In 2015, Houston Astros hitter Lance Berkman, an evangelical Christian, campaigned against the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance, designed to protect LGBTQ rights. “For me,” Berkman said at the time, “tolerance is the virtue that kills this country.” The order was dismissed.
Other MLB players have made homophobic comments over the years, including John Rocker, Julian Tavarez, Yunel Escobar, Daniel Murphy and Todd Jones, as well as manager Ozzie Guillen.
Changes start at the top
Even though big league players remain in the closet, MLB and individual teams have taken steps to make baseball more inclusive for LGBTQ employees and fans.
In 2009, when the Ricketts family bought the Chicago Cubs, Laura Ricketts became the first openly LGBTQ person to own a professional sports team. Billie Jean King, the former tennis star who in 1981 became the first openly gay top sports figure, is now part-owner of the Dodgers.
At least four teams – the Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks – now have openly gay executives. Bean launched a program to recruit and mentor more LGBTQ people to work for team offices at the major and minor league levels.
In 2000, a lesbian couple were kicked out of Dodger Stadium for kissing. Today, out of 30 MLB teams, only the Texas Rangers have never hosted an LGBTQ Pride event of any kind.
Several teams have fined or suspended players, managers and at least one broadcaster – Thom Brennaman of the Cincinnati Reds – for uttering anti-gay slurs. And despite the occasional homophobic epithet that continues to emerge from their ranks, more and more straight baseball players have expressed their support for the LGBTQ community over the past two decades.
In 2003, Colorado Rockies star Mark Grace told the Denver Post that most baseball players would not be threatened by the idea of ââa gay teammate. “I’ve been playing for 16 years and I’m sure I’ve had gay teammates that I didn’t know.”
Grace added: “I think if you are smart you will understand that gay people are like us.”
In 2005, Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. said having a gay teammate “I wouldn’t mind at all. If you can play, you can play.” And in 2018, after the media highlighted a wave of anti-gay slurs tweeted by several major league baseball players, pitcher Sean Doolittle tweeted a full-throated defense: “Some of the strongest people I know are from the LGBTQ community. It takes courage to be yourself when your identity has been used as an insult or derogatory judgment.”
No perfect time
The first major league gay baseball player to come out won’t be a question of if, but when.
A 2015 poll found that 73% of Americans – including a majority of white evangelical Christians – said they would support a professional sports team signing an openly gay or lesbian athlete.
Some are hoping the first pro ball player to come out will be a star. In 2014, Pallone, the former gay referee, told Fox Sports he wanted it to be “a player whose name comes out of someone’s tongue. That’s what’s going to do the most good.”
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Or the first big gay player might just emerge from the lead pipeline. Over the past decade, two openly gay baseball players – David Denson and Sean Conroy – have played in the minor leagues. A third minor league player Bryan Ruby, currently an infielder for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, which is part of an independent professional league in Oregon, was released in September 2021. There are more and more openly gay college players, and the best of them might come up. the professional ranks among the majors.
âWhen I was playing, homosexuality was a taboo subject. We never spoke openly about it,â Bean said. âGay athletes in high school, college and underage now have role models to follow. “
There will always be some who say now is not the time for a major breakthrough. But as Jon Buzinski, the founder of OutSports, told me: âEveryone will say, ‘We’re not ready.’ The company was not ready for Jackie Robinson. If you wait until everyone is ready, no one will. “
Peter Dreier, Emeritus Professor of Politics EP Clapp, Western college
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.