Tag Archives: baseball

LGBT History Month 2013: Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers

5 Jun

CollinsRogersWhat a difference a year makes! Last summer there were no out gay men in professional team sports. Suddenly there are two, each of whom has made a significant difference in the national conversation. Professional athletics, especially male teams, is one of the last closets to be pried open.

Former Baltimore Raven and outspoken LGBT ally Brendon Ayanbadejo indicated that at least four gay NFL players were considering coming out as a group and had talked to him about strategy. Before that could happen, NBA star Jason Collins and soccer player Robbie Rogers boldly burst the doors open.

Collins became the first non-retired, publicly out man on a professional team just a month ago. Coming out in a long interview in Sports Illustrated, he spoke eloquently about the crippling power of the closet and the desire to be accepted as a complete human being. Reactions were all over the map, but generally positive. With a couple of notable exceptions, other NBA players have been very supportive, setting the stage for more out basketball players in the near future.

Barely a week ago, Robbie Rogers broke two barriers. Signing with the LA Galaxy, he became the first out major league soccer player. The very next day, he joined his team on the field, becoming the first publicly out gay man to play a team sport. As with Collins, other than some grumbling from the usual “Family Values” groups, Rogers has seen nothing but support.

The courage of these two men does nothing to diminish the many out athletes that came before them. Tennis stars Renée Richards and Martina Navratilova were early out players. Baseball’s Glenn Burke was out to his team while still playing — to the detriment of his career. David Kopay, Billy Bean, and John Amaechi all came out not long after retiring from football, baseball, and basketball respectively. Every out voice counts!

The macho image of male team sports has contributed to the long-standing homophobia in that arena. Collins and Rogers, building on the brave men and women who preceded them, have helped change that dynamic. Let’s hope that soon there will be too many out players to list casually. Until then, every move forward must be celebrated.

Hero of the Week Award: September 21, the Toronto Blue Jays

21 Sep

Hero of the Week

Perhaps the homophobic tide is slowly turning in professional athletics. Just weeks after two NFL players made headlines with their outspoken support of marriage equality, a major league baseball team handled the homophobic actions of a player in a clear and decisive way.

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar is known for writing slogans in white paint on his eyeblack. According to teammates and news items, most of the writing is “inspirational or motivational.” Last Saturday, however, the writing was neither of these things. The eyeblack (which comes in adhesive strips making it easy to augment with words or images before applying) he wore on the field said “Tu eres maricon,” Spanish for “you are a faggot.”

The outcry was swift. Escobar held a press conference with a lame “everybody says it in the locker room” defense; he then moved on to a “it doesn’t really mean anything,” sounding like a high school kid caught slinging the word “gay” indiscriminately. He also played the “lots of my friends are gay” card although he could only name his decorator and hair stylist. fortunately, Blue Jays management didn’t buy his nonpology. After consulting with the Baseball Commissioner, they handed  Escobar a pretty stiff penalty.

The player was suspended for three games and his salary for those games (equalling an impressive $83,000 and change) will go to two charities. The bulk will go to the relatively new You Can Play project, whose mission is:

You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. […] You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.

What a perfect choice! The balance of the penalty will go to GLAAD, another fitting selection. Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos described the decision clearly.

Taking away from all of this, there is a problem not only in sports but a problem in society, and how do we move forward to help with that problem? If at the end of the day the Blue Jays become a vehicle and Yunel becomes a vehicle to improve things and make them better, as unfortunate as this is, hopefully some good will come from it.

The management team also acknowledged their responsibility, noting that eyeblack writing is so common that it is often overlooked. They hope that this action will make players think twice and are instructing coaches to pay closer attention in the future. Nicely done, Blue Jays, and thank you.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 22, Glenn Burke

22 Jun

Thank you to my dear friend Ahmed for inspiring me to write this tribute. Today we honor and celebrate a courageous athlete who sacrificed his career for his honesty. Glenn Burke was born in 1952 in Oakland, CA. Before we go any farther, I have to say this man is an absolute HERO! He was a star basketball player in high school, leading his team to an undefeated season and a regional championship. Named high school basketball player of the year in California, he seriously considered an NBA career, but received a baseball offer first. Given his height (barely six feet), he opted to take the offer.

He debuted with the LA Dodgers in 1976 and was called “the next Willie Mays” due to his success in the minors. Rumors about his sexual orientation started early and Burke refused to deny them. When Dodgers general manager Al Campanis offered to pay for a lavish wedding and honeymoon to defuse the gossip, Burke’s reply was “To a woman?” He also angered manager Tommy Lasorda by striking up a friendship with his estranged son, the gay Tommy Lasorda, Jr. Unwilling to compromise, he irritated the power brokers on the team even though his fellow players seemed unphased.

Despite his talent, the Dodgers traded him to the Oakland A’s (for a much less promising player) in 1978. A’s manager Billy Martin introduced him to the team as “this faggot.” He was given little playing time; after he suffered a knee injury, the A’s sent him back down to the minors. He retired from baseball in 1979 at the age of 27. Burke played in the majors for four and a half seasons, batting .237 and stealing 35 bases. “Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have,” Burke said in an interview with The New York Times last year. “But I wasn’t changing.”

Glenn Burke was one of the first athletes to come out publicly, definitely the first major league baseball player. He is one of the rare players to come out while he was still active. Most, like activist and retired baseballer Billy Bean, wait until they are out of the locker rooms to live their lives honestly. As an African American man in the late 70s, he faced opposition for his honesty on almost every front. Nevertheless, he stuck by his principles. As he observed in an interview with People in 1994, “My mission as a gay ballplayer was to break a stereotype . . . I think it worked.”

Sadly, Burke was badly injured in a car accident in 1987. His leg was permanently damaged and the pain led to increased drug use and dependency. He suffered financial loss and homelessness, only slowly beginning to rebuild his life in the early 90s. By then he was dealing with significant complications from HIV. Glenn Burke died at 42 in 1995. His best epitaph is this quote:

They can’t ever say now that a gay man can’t play in the majors, because I’m a gay man and I made it.

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