By RYAN WAGNER
You’re in a ballpark. Your team is losing. Big. It’s the kind of game that would have made you leave in the fifth inning – if you were one of those fans who doesn’t believe your team will pull it out until the very last out is recorded. If you were one of those people who gives up.
All of a sudden your team gets a hit. And then another. Nothing special. A ground ball with eyes here, a dying quail there. But the buzz has started. You know the one I’m talking about. When 50,000 people all seem to begin to whisper simultaneously? The buzz.
Another hit, and this one scores a run or two. Now the buzz is a low rumble. Your team is still down, but there’s a glimmer of hope. This one ain’t over yet.
Now comes the big hit. The one that makes the sportswriters who have already written 90 percent of their game recaps stop, sigh and hit the delete button. The low rumble is now a roar. The game hasn’t been won, but the opponent is already defeated, and they’re not sure how it happened. The stars realigned, and that flighty temptress momentum changed her uniform.
In short, the narrative changed.
The fight for LGBT equality has undergone a similar change in narrative recently. For a long time, those battling in the trenches felt as though we were fighting a losing battle — always meeting with a loud, outspoken opposition that either didn’t care or simply didn’t understand. We weren’t exactly losing, but we certainly weren’t winning.
And then, all of a sudden, we got a couple of hits. Nothing big. A ground ball with eyes here, a dying quail there. Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage. Connecticut would follow, with Iowa and Vermont not far behind. The buzz started. You know the one I mean. When 100 million people all begin to whisper simultaneously? The buzz.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, Prop 8 and DOMA were all struck down. The buzz became a low rumble.
The fight began to spill over into other areas of society, including the world of sports. Jason Collins came out. In light of inflammatory anti-LGBT policies in Russia, President Obama skipped the 2014 Sochi Olympics, opting instead to appoint tennis legend and gay rights champion Billie Jean King to lead the American contingent at the Opening Ceremonies. Michael Sam announced he’s gay prior to the NFL draft and in doing so, became the first openly gay man to sign a contract with an NFL team.
The low rumble became a roar, and the narrative had changed.
As a professional stage actor who also decided to pursue a career in the world of professional sports, I’m somewhat of an anomaly.
The relationships I forged with my friends in the theater world led me to assume that the fight for LGBT equality was on the forefront of the American social agenda. I assumed this because, for those of us traveling North America with a musical, it was simply a part of the vernacular.
In 2011, I was on the road with that musical when I learned I had been hired by Major League Baseball. I would be leaving the bubble that theater had created, and would be making the long, fascinating walk to the other side of the spectrum. In a span of three days, I went from a cocoon where my most important issue was the same as everyone else’s to a world where that issue was never even discussed. It wasn’t that LGBT equality was on the back burner for Major League Baseball. It had yet to make it onto the stove. Professional sports, particularly those considered the “Big 4,” are in many ways the last great bastion of masculinity and demonstrative heterosexuality. Anything that can be deemed a weakness is a liability. Any distraction is removed as quickly and quietly as possible. Which is why the three years that have passed since I first began my career in baseball have been so remarkable.
In a span of just a few years, I have had a front row seat for one of the most astounding, and most important, ideological shifts in social history. Thanks to the immediacy of information and (seriously) the power of social media, LGBT equality has gone from an issue on the periphery of the American agenda to one that finds itself front and center. And the catalyst for that tectonic shift has been sports. When the issue of homosexuality began showing up on the football field and the basketball court, the everyday, blue-collar American sports fan was forced to deal with it. As I watched Jason Collins and Michael Sam announce their homosexuality, my immediate thought was, “When will this tidal wave reach Major League Baseball?”
Baseball is America’s pastime. As James Earl Jones once remarked in “Field of Dreams,” “Baseball…has marked the times.” It has gotten us through some of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history: World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, 9-11. It stands to reason that baseball would take the lead in this time of great struggle. But when was that going to happen? When was baseball going to realize the opportunity it had to make a statement to not only the rest of the sports landscape, but to the country and the world as a whole?
A few weeks ago, I got my answer. On July 15, Major League Baseball officially announced its partnership with Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to fostering an environment of acceptance and inclusion for all LGBT athletes, coaches, and fans across all sports, professional and amateur.
When MLB announced that partnership — even Commissioner Bud Selig signed a pledge to become an Athlete Ally himself — it trumpeted a major victory for the entire LGBT community and their allies. Major League Baseball is not just a professional sports league. It is an organization that is American as American gets. It represents all that we hold dear in our most patriotic of hearts, and if something that American can say that being gay is not only OK, but is something worth fighting for, who would dare say otherwise?
There may be nothing more difficult than the growing pains of a transitioning social issue. Most people who have strongly held beliefs derive those beliefs from years and years of indoctrination. Change only comes when those screaming for change outnumber those who are plugging their ears and waiting for the din to quiet. With Major League Baseball now adding its voice to the roaring winds of change, the din may finally be too much to overcome.
In short, the narrative has changed. And now, at long last, maybe, just maybe, that flighty temptress momentum has changed her uniform.
Ryan Wagner is the PA announcer for the Baltimore Orioles.