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Queer facts about Major League Baseball

America’s Favorite Pastime still lacks openly gay players

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Billy Bean, gay news, Washington Blade
Billy Bean came out in 1999 after retiring from baseball and 22 years later the sport still lacks an out gay player. (Photo courtesy Bean)

After a season-long hiatus from hosting in-the-stands fans at its 30 ballparks and stadiums due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball (and its Minor League Baseball feeder system) is back. The annual All-Star Game is set for July 13. Aside from gawking at your favorite players’ posteriors in form-fitting pinstriped pants, there are plenty of queer cheers to give for America’s national pastime. These are gayest things you didn’t know about pro ball.

Glenn Burke broke the first barrier – but it may have cost him

As an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1976 to ’78 (and widely regarded co-inventor of the high-five), Glenn Burke broke ground as the first active MLB player to come out as gay to his teammates and bosses. While he was asked to refrain from making his sexual orientation public by Dodgers’ top brass, Burke told People magazine in 1994 that his “mission as a gay ballplayer was to break a stereotype” and he thought it worked. In other interviews and in his autobiography, however, he suggested that prejudice drove him out of the sport, not the injury that sent him back down to the minors after a year with the Oakland Athletics. 

The A’s released Burke from his contract before the end of his injured farm-team season, and he retired from the game in 1980. 

In the initial years following his retirement, Burke competed in 100- and 200-meter sprints at the inaugural Gay Games in 1982 and in basketball at the 1986 Games, and for many years he played for the San Francisco Gay Softball League. Burke died of complications from AIDS in 1995.

Burke befriended Tommy Lasorda Jr. – and Tommy Senior wasn’t happy

Legendary Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda Sr. – who led the team to two World Series championships, four National League pennants and eight division titles during his 20-year stewardship from 1976 to 1996 – had a gay son. Burke befriended the younger Lasorda Jr., which angered the “family values” manager, causing a rift that likely contributed to Burke being traded to the A’s after three seasons in Los Angeles. Lasorda Jr. died of AIDS complications in 1991 at age 33. Lasorda Sr. died earlier this year without ever having acknowledged he had a gay son.

It’s been 22 years since the second MLB player came out

Billy Bean, an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers, L.A. Dodgers and San Diego Padres from 1987 to 1995, came out in the Miami Herald in 1999, four years after retiring. Besides Burke, he remains the only other former MLB player to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality post-career; no active player has ever come out publicly and no former players have come out since. In 2003, Bean released his autobiography “Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life in and out of Major League Baseball,” and in 2014 he was named MLB’s first Ambassador for Inclusion. In 2016, that role was expanded to Vice President of Social Responsibility and Inclusion, and today Bean serves as Vice President and Special Assistant to the Commissioner. 

The L.A. Dodgers are the only team with both players who have come out as gay

Both Burke and Bean played for the Dodgers during their MLB careers – and as history tends to repeat itself, maybe there’s a gay player on the Dodgers’ roster right now. If that’s true, here’s hoping he has the courage to come out and make history while an active player, put the final nail in the coffin of the Dodgers’ homophobic past, and serve as an inspiration to aspiring young pro ball players everywhere. 

No pressure.

Statistics suggest there are dozens of closeted pro baseball players

In a 2015 article for the New York Times, economist and public policy scholar Justin Wolfers wrote that based on the proportion of American men who have acknowledged being gay or bisexual (though not necessarily out), there must be closeted MLB players actively taking the field. Thirty MLB teams each have 40-men rosters equaling 1,200 players who don’t publicly identify as queer. 

“If baseball players are as likely to be gay as other men their age – let’s go with an estimate of 1 in 25 – then the odds that none of these men are gay is one in two sextillion,” Wolfers wrote. “A sextillion comes after a trillion, quadrillion and quintillion; it is a thousand billion billion.”

Of course, there may be gay or bisexual men in MLB who have ripped a page from Burke’s playbook and only confided within their own club. Time will tell.

Lower-level pro ball has a much better coming-out average 

Since Sean Conroy, former pitcher for the independent Sonoma Stompers, came out publicly in 2015 while still on the team’s roster – the first-ever active pro ball player to do so – a handful of others have followed in his pioneering footsteps (at various stages of their careers), including MiLB players David Denson, Tyler Dunnington, Jason Burch, and John Dillinger.

There are 30 MLB teams – and all but one of them host a Pride night

Twenty years ago this summer, the Chicago Cubs kicked off MLB’s Pride-night tradition with its now-annual “Out at Wrigley” celebration, and almost every club in the organization has followed suit. Twenty-eight teams in the United States and one in Canada host an evening of LGBTQ inclusiveness, usually with special ticket packages that include seats in a dedicated Pride section and rainbow-colored baseball swag. The lone holdout? The two-decades-too-late New York Yankees. 

Two years ago, the Yanks acknowledged the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and honored five first-annual Yankees-Stonewall Scholarship winners in a special pre-game commemoration ceremony that unveiled a plaque behind the center-field fence dedicated to the occasion. Yet still no Pride night.

The San Francisco Giants made rainbow history for Pride 2021

MLB teams are known to incorporate cause-based logos and patches into their uniforms throughout the season, like the pink breast cancer awareness ribbon, for instance, or camouflage to show military appreciation. But on June 5, 2021, the San Francisco Giants became the first team in big-league history to rainbow-ize its uniforms, including a right-sleeve home jersey patch in Pride colors and a matching logo on players’ hats, in celebration of its LGBTQ+ fans.

“We are extremely proud to stand with the LGBTQ+ community as we kick off one of the best annual celebrations in San Francisco by paying honor to the countless achievements and contributions of all those who identify as LGBTQ+ and are allies of the LGBTQ+ community,” San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer said in a statement.

A scripted series about gay professional ball players may be coming soon

Author Peter Lefcourt’s novel, “The Dreyfus Affair: A Love Story” (1992), about homophobia in baseball that follows two MLB players who get caught up in a sex scandal should be required reading for any on-the-spectrum queer sports fans, but if you’re adverse to cracking open a dusty book, the live-action TV adaptation may be coming to a streaming service near you. 

Universal Television has optioned the novel for development with Oscar- and Emmy-winner David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”) tapped to direct and co-write the pilot with Lefcourt. 

The project has been in development in some form for the past 28 years. Studios put the kibosh on Lefcourt’s and Frankel’s original movie scripts in 1996 – Disney was even interested as one point – citing lack of commercial appeal. 

These are the best butts in baseball according to Us magazine

There’s no definitive queer ranking of the best butts in baseball (and it’s a shame there isn’t) but a few years ago Us magazine asked its readers, majority females, to rank MLB’s greatest assets. Phillies left fielder Rhys Hoskins, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Matt Harvey, New York Yankee Giancarlo Stanton, Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper, and Dodger Cody Bellinger rounded out the top five – figuratively and literally. 

Perfectly acceptable. But are there better booties at-bat? 

Consider Diamondback David Peralta, Los Angeles Angel Mike Trout, and Orioles first baseman Chris Davis the next time they take the plate. 

Seventh-inning stretch, anyone?

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. He currently works for the Atlanta Braves. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels

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Out Olympian Kenworthy & Paralympian Dunkin on Tokyo & LGBTQ Sports

“The fact that LGBTQ youth drop out of sports at twice the rate of their heterosexual & gender counterparts, it doesn’t have to be that way.”

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Screenshot via Los Angeles Blade

TOKYO – Gus Kenworthy is in Tokyo for the Summer Games, but not to compete. The  Olympic Gold Medalist recently joined Paralympian Gold Medalist Abby Dunkin in a Zoom conversation with Athlete Ally founder and executive director Hudson Taylor and the head of LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion for Procter & Gamble, Brent Miller. 

“I felt like I knew that if I came out, there must be someone else,” Kenworthy said. “I was like, there’s someone else in skiing or an action sports or another kid who is going to resonate with my story. And if I can even help one person, then it will be worth it.”

This group of athletes and allies tackled the difficult issues of coming out in sports, fears of rejection, suicide attempts and competing authentically as well as the controversy over transgender inclusion in sports, both at the Olympics and in high schools and colleges across the U.S. 

“Only 24% of LGBTQ youth participate in sports,” noted Taylor. “The fact that LGBTQ youth drop out of sports at twice the rate of their heterosexual and gender counterparts, it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Dunkin credited Paralympian gold medalist Stephanie Wheeler as an inspiration both on the court and in everyday life as an out lesbian. 

“Stephanie really creates such a great environment for me and other athletes and also our staff, too, that were out at the time,” said Dunkin. “And that really impacted me to come out and be myself.“ Wheeler is also head coach of the Univ. of Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball team. 

As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, there are more than 142 out LGBTQ athletes competing in Tokyo, a record for any Olympic Games. And with trans nonbinary soccer player Quinn on their way to a potential gold medal, making history with out trans woman Laurel Hubbard and out trans BMX competitor Chelsea Wolfe in Tokyo, Miller says their first steps are inspiring to people all around the world, no matter what their gender identity or sexual orientation is. 

“It’s about bringing people together, supporting people, creating mutual understanding, and really celebrating all of humanity,” Miller said. “And now for us, bringing those LGBTQ+ stories forward is critically important because we see the value of what sport can bring.”

Watch their conversation with sports editor Dawn Ennis by clicking here.

Equal Representation in Sports: Why LGBTQ+ Visibility Matters

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IOC: ‘Trans Women Are Women’ Laurel Hubbard set to make sports history

Laurel Hubbard is set to make sports history on Monday and the International Olympic Committee clearly has her back

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Screenshot via CBS Sports

TOKYO – The director of medicine and science for the International Olympic Committee praised weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s “courage and tenacity” as she prepares for her upcoming competition as the world’s first out transgender woman Olympian. 

In speaking to reporters in Tokyo Thursday, Dr. Richard Budgett directly addressed those who have attacked and mocked the 43-year-old New Zealander and claimed she shouldn’t be competing with cisgender women, saying  “everyone agrees that trans women are women.”

“To put it in a nutshell,” he said, “the IOC had a scientific consensus back in 2015. There are no IOC rules or regulations around transgender participation. That depends on each international federation. So Laurel Hubbard is a woman, is competing under the rules of her federation and we have to pay tribute to her courage and tenacity in actually competing and qualifying for the Games.”

Hubbard herself has not made any public comments except for a statement following her qualifying for the Summer Games, saying she was “humbled” by the support which had helped her “through the darkness” following a near career-ending injury in Australia in 2018.

Reports around the world have claimed Hubbard is the first trans Olympic athlete, which is actually not the case. As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Quinn, a trans nonbinary soccer midfielder for Team Canada, last Wednesday became the first out trans athlete ever to complete in the Olympic Games. They posted about it on Instagram, saying, “I feel proud seeing ‘Quinn’ up on the lineup and on my accreditation. I feel sad knowing there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of the world.”

The IOC is expected to review and likely revise its policies on transgender participation following Tokyo. Trans athlete and researcher Joanna Harper, who has advised the organization and other sports policy groups, told the Los Angeles Blade her recommendation will be for the IOC to continue to regulate trans athletes sport-by-sport. “There shouldn’t be a one-size fits all policy,” said Harper. 

She also noted how the mainstream cisgender media is consumed with coverage of Hubbard and missing out on the bigger picture, and what it will mean for the next generation watching on TV and online. 
“The lack of attention paid to Quinn and to Chelsea Wolfe has been interesting,” said Harper.

“A few news outlets have commented on their presence in Tokyo and in Quinn’s case the comments have been mostly favorable. On the other hand, the storm of mostly negative press heaped on Laurel Hubbard has been disappointing, although predictable. I hope that the negative press that Laurel has gotten won’t dissuade young trans athletes from following their dreams. I think that the next trans woman to compete in the games will get less negative press, and eventually (although probably not in my life) there will come a time when trans women in sport generate little or no controversy.”

Hubbard issued a statement Friday via the New Zealand Olympic Committee in which she said: “The Olympic Games are a global celebration of our hopes, our ideals and our values. I commend the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible.”

According to a French news outlet, NZOC spokesperson Ashley Abbott told reporters the committee had seen a “particularly high level of interest” in Hubbard’s Olympic debut, and much of it has been negative.

“Certainly we have seen a groundswell of comment about it and a lot of it is inappropriate,” Abbott said. “Our view is that we’ve got a culture of manaaki (inclusion) and it’s our role to support all eligible athletes on our team. In terms of social media, we won’t be engaging in any kind of negative debate.”

Abbott reminded the media that the NZOC’s job was to support its athletes, including Hubbard. “We all need to remember that there’s a person behind all these technical questions,” she said. “As an organization we would look to shield our athlete, or any athlete, from anything negative in the social media space. We don’t condone cyberbullying in any way.”

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Non-binary Olympian leaves games without a medal but still a winner

For the first time in my entire life, I’m proud of the person I’ve worked to become. I chose my happiness over medaling

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Alana Smith via Instagram

TOKYO – In a series of firsts for the Summer Olympic Games, Alana Smith left the Tokyo games with a sense of accomplishment and a couple of firsts. The 20-year-old non-binary skateboarder competing in the debut of their sport noted on their Instagram account, “My goal coming into this was to be happy and be a visual representation for humans like me.”

Smith wrote: ‘What a wild f***ing ride…My goal coming into this was to be happy and be a visual representation for humans like me. For the first time in my entire life, Im proud of the person I’ve worked to become. I chose my happiness over medaling. Out of everything I’ve done, I wanted to walk out of this knowing I UNAPOLOGETICALLY was myself and was genuinely smiling.

The feeling in my heart says I did that. Last night I had a moment on the balcony, I’m not religious or have anyone/anything I talk to. Last night I thanked whoever it was out there that gave me the chance to not leave this world the night I laid in the middle of the road. I feel happy to be alive and feel like I’m meant to be here for possibly the first time in a extremely long time. On or off day, I walked out of this happy and alive… Thats all I have ever asked for.

Thank you to all the incredible humans that have supported me through so many waves of life. I can’t wait to skate for the love of it again, not only for a contest. Which is wild considering a contest helped me find my love for it again. 💛🤍💜🖤”

Smith’s Olympic debut was slightly marred by their being misgendered during news coverage of their events by BBC commentators misgendering Smith discussing their performance, which led to protests from LGBTQ+ groups and allies including British LGBTQ+ advocacy group Stonewall UK.

 

During the competition, Smith proudly held up their skateboard, which featured their pronouns they/them written across the top. The misgendering was addressed by NBC Sports which issued an apology Tuesday for streaming coverage that misgendered Smith.

“NBC Sports is committed to—and understands the importance of—using correct pronouns for everyone across our platforms,” the network said. “While our commentators used the correct pronouns in our coverage, we streamed an international feed that was not produced by NBCUniversal which misgendered Olympian Alana Smith. We regret this error and apologize to Alana and our viewers.”

NBC also reported that this is the first Olympics in history that has featured skateboarding, with 16 athletes traveling to Tokyo to represent the United States. Smith qualified for the third Olympic spot in the women’s street category after competing at the World Skate World Championships in 2019, according to Dew Tour, which hosts international skateboarding competitions.

According to Outsports, the online LGBTQ+ Sports magazine and NBC Sports, Smith is one of more than 160 openly LGBTQ athletes competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics and one of at least three openly nonbinary or Trans athletes.

Quinn, a midfielder for the Canadian women’s soccer team who goes by only their first name, is the first openly Trans athlete and nonbinary athlete to compete in the games. Laurel Hubbard, a Trans woman from New Zealand will compete in the super heavyweight 87 kilogram-plus (192 pound-plus) weightlifting category on August 2.

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