of an out gay/bi ballplayer in today’s game. Your thoughts?
That’s a great question, Randy, especially in today’s climate of suspense surrounding “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and the California ballot initiative. In the past few years we’ve seen a couple football players come out of the closet along with a basketball player or two. Baseball, of course, has Billy Bean. But the one thing that all of these guys have in common is that they didn’t come out until after their careers were over. I think that says a lot about the continued repressive climate in professional sports.
However, I don’t think this really comes as a surprise. Sports have the power to do good but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. When Jackie Robinson finally broke into the major leagues, the Civil War had been over for 80 years and the 13th Amendment had been around nearly as long. But that didn’t mean baseball felt any need to allow black players into the league and it definitely didn’t mean the fans immediately accepted it.
The difference here is that skin color is something immediately apparent, something you can’t necessarily hide. That made the conflict much more apparent as well. But sexuality you can hide and many gay athletes choose to take that route because it’s simpler. Why confront the issue and suffer the very real consequences when you can choose to step around it?
That’s one reason why baseball is still looking for its gay trailblazer, a guy who can step up and proudly say that he’s out before heading to the ballpark to do his job, ignoring the slurs and comments.
But there’s another aspect to this that we need to remember. Jackie wasn’t just any ballplayer. He was an All-Star, a guy who played on a winning team and who was one of the leaders of that team. If a Ryan Howard, an Albert Pujols or a Tim Lincecum were to come out and then continue to perform at the same level, it could have the same effect as Robinson. But some ordinary Joe, a roleplayer who has to grind it out, sadly, that just doesn’t mean the same thing.
This is an important distinction. The only reason that anyone still talks about Billy Bean is because of his coming out story. He was an adequate ballplayer but that’s it. Yes, Jackie was black but he also was the Rookie of the Year, won an MVP and was elected into the Hall of Fame. He didn’t let himself be defined as a black ballplayer; he was a great ballplayer who happened to be black.
In order to truly overcome the stigma of being gay, an out ballplayer would have to transcend his sexuality. That’s the point when he truly becomes accepted and that’s the point when it becomes easier for other ballplayers to come out and join him. But until that time, it’s going to be a difficult road.
Statistically, it’s nearly impossible that there are no gay or bi baseball players in the game today. And like you pointed out in your post, when respected guys like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Joe Torre say they would welcome out ballplayers on their team, you would like to think that a change is coming. But I’m afraid we still have a ways to go.