With the signing of Jason Collins to the Brooklyn Nets, Collins has become the first openly gay NBA player in the league’s history. Although it is just a 10-day contract, it is a step in the right direction of the NBA. Earlier this month, Michael Sam came out in an interview, as he became the first openly gay football player entering the NFL Draft. Since then, the question of openly gay athletes has been discussed time and time again, especially within the MLB.
There have been numerous managers and general managers who claim they would welcome a gay player on their team, with the general consensus being as long as they could produce on the field. Shouldn’t that be the only thing that matters? In the year 2014, I find it a little odd that as a society, we are making a big deal out of athletes opening up about their sexuality. When it comes to baseball, there is a rich and vibrant history, including breaking down the color barrier when Jackie Robinson played as a Brooklyn Dodger in April 1947.
So, when will baseball have its first openly gay athlete? I hate to break it to you, but baseball already saw its first openly gay athlete in Glenn Burke, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics from 1976-79. Etched deep in the history books of the MLB, Burke had a mostly unsuccessful career as a career .237 hitter in his four seasons in the bigs. What most people don’t know, is that Burke had come out to his teammates as a member of the Dodgers. Interestingly enough, the Dodgers offered him a reported $75,000 for him to get married to a woman, even though most of his teammates already knew he was gay before he came out.
When Burke declined, he was traded to the A’s where he finished up his career. From there, Burke got hit by a car, which ended his career as a major league baseball player. By the early 1990’s, Burke contracted the AIDS virus and he died in 1995.
The second reported gay player to have played in the big leagues is Billy Bean. No, not the character Brad Pitt played in Moneyball. As an outfielder with the Detroit Tigers, Dodgers, and San Diego Padres, Bean played from 1987-95. Unlike Burke, Bean didn’t come out while he was a player. Instead, he waited until 1999 to open up about his sexuality. Bean eventually wrote a book about his experiences and appeared on many talk shows.
Together, Bean and Burke have technically broken down the barrier of homosexuality in baseball, but it has widely gone unnoticed. Perhaps it was because neither player was very successful during their careers. Maybe it was because Bean didn’t come out until after he retired. For whatever reason, they haven’t received as much attention for their efforts as I feel they deserve.
As we sit and wait for the next openly gay athlete to announce their sexuality, I ask that you give a few minutes to think of the men who have made progress before them. Robbie Rogers, Collins and Michael Sam have all shown remarkable poise and dignity, as they have come out of the closet as world-class athletes. In the case of the MLB, they have already shown gay athletes can and will be accepted, yesterday, today and in the future.