Dialogue regarding sexual orientation in major sport leagues has become a massive point of conversation in recent years. Michael Sam and the NFL, Jason Collins and the NBA, Robbie Rogers in soccer, Ian Thorpe of Olympic fame—these coming out stories have created an inspiring trend that encourages inclusion for players, coaches, and staff.
The one major US sporting culture still waiting for its trailblazer is Major League Baseball. Not to be left behind, the bastion of American tradition, with its cracker jacks and hot dogs and pitches and home runs, is stepping up its own efforts to encourage equality within its community.
The organization is using today’s All-Star game in Minneapolis as a platform to reaffirm its position of non-discrimination. Part of the ceremony will involve honoring Glenn Burke, a player who, at the age of 27, walked away from baseball because he felt it was more important to be himself than to be a professional player.
“It’s harder to be gay in sports than anywhere else, except maybe president,” said Burke in 1982 after coming out publicly, two years after leaving the game, in an Inside Sports magazine article. “Baseball is probably the hardest sport of all.”
Burke passed away in 1995, at the age of 42, due to complications from AIDS. In his stead, Burke’s family has been invited to today’s game, to join in honoring his contributions to the sport.
“It was overdue, and Glenn has a story that needs to be told,” Lutha Burke, Glenn Burke’s sister, said. “Glenn wouldn’t be upset that it took this long. He’d just say, ‘It’s about time you guys showed up.’ People are missing out when they decide to let a segment of our society not be what they can truly be.”
In 2011, the organization added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy. In 2013, they adopted a new workplace code of conduct that further protected players and staff from anti-LGBT harassment.
“We welcome all individuals regardless of sexual orientation into our ballparks, along with those of different races, religions, genders and national origins,” Commissioner Bud Selig said then. “Both on the field and away from it, Major League Baseball has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation.”
Tuesday’s announcement is supposed to dramatically shift the league’s, “ability to combat homophobia and help gay players, coaches and staff in the League,” according to Outsports.
The MLB has brought on former player Billy Bean to help in their inclusion efforts. Bean played six seasons in the majors before coming out in 1999, two years after retiring. They have also been working for more than a year with Athlete Ally, a group founded by Hudson Taylor to combat homophobia in sports.
“Maybe he didn’t get a chance to live out his dream,” said Lutha Burke about her brother. “He used to sleep in his baseball uniform, and Mom used to have to peel it off him. But make sure that other little boys get a chance to live out their dream. Glenn would be very proud. Something good has come out of it in the end.”
Who will be baseball’s Michael Sam, Jason Collins, or Robbie Rogers? Hopefully, with this current trajectory, we won’t have long to wait to find out.