MLB Appoints Ambassador To Help Pave The Way For Openly Gay Players

Glenn Burke, pictured here in 1977 while playing with the Dodgers, was openly gay to teammates during his short Major League career. CREDIT: AP
Glenn Burke, pictured here in 1977 while playing with the Dodgers, was openly gay to teammates during his short Major League career. CREDIT: AP

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig on Tuesday appointed Billy Bean, a former player who came out as gay in 1999 after retiring from baseball, as the league’s first Ambassador for Inclusion, a post that will tackle multiple different facets of diversity but is aimed largely at paving the way for the league’s first openly gay player.

Selig made the announcement before the All-Star Game in Minneapolis, a year after he announced enhancements to MLB’s non-discrimination policy, which first protected players and other employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2011. The new additions to the policy created education and training programs and developed a code of conduct for players and all employees of MLB.

Bean, not to be confused with Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, will be in charge of further developing those training programs, according to Major League Baseball. Bean will also be in attendance rookie programs and annual MLB meetings. While he will oversee new initiatives on sexism and other forms of prejudice too, ridding the sport of homophobia and making the sport more inclusive for LGBT employees, fans, and ultimately, the sport’s first publicly gay player is the major driver of the new position.

Selig also used the All-Star Game to honor Glenn Burke, the former Los Angeles Dodger who was open to his teammates near the end of his playing career. Burke left baseball in 1980 largely because of the pressure of remaining in the closet. While Burke’s teammates found out he was gay, his relationship with the team’s management was strained, as the New York Times detailed this week. Burke came out publicly in 1982 in an interview with Inside Sports magazine and died of AIDS in 1995.

Members of Burke’s family attended Selig’s press conference and the All-Star Game.

“I wish that our game had someone in place to whom Billy and Glenn could have turned when they played; a friend, listener, a source of support,” Selig said Tuesday. “That’s why I am so delighted to make this announcement today.”

Major League Baseball hasn’t shown as much prominent progress on LGBT issues as other major sports leagues. The NBA and Major League Soccer both saw their first openly gay players over the last year, when Robbie Rogers came out before returning to MLS’s Los Angeles Galaxy and Jason Collins returned to the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets. The St. Louis Rams made Michael Sam the first openly gay draft pick in NFL history in May. And while the NHL doesn’t have an openly gay player yet, its teams have worked extensively with organizations like the You Can Play Project.

Players appear ready to welcome the first gay player. An ESPN survey of 143 Major Leaguers in March showed that 81 percent agreed with New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi that the game was “ready for an openly gay player.” And with its non-discrimination policy and the initiatives Selig announced Tuesday, baseball is taking many of the same steps those leagues have used to foster a more inclusive atmosphere.

Bean, who came out four years after he retired, said the league wasn’t going to try to encourage players to come out, but wanted to make it easier for them to do so whenever they felt ready.

“This is not a desire to find out information about players or encourage them to do something they’re not ready to do,” Bean said, according to MLB. “It’s to protect them and let them make their own decisions and be the best players they can be.”