Op-ed: America’s More Inclusive Pastime
BY Advocate Contributors
November 30 2011 5:00 AM ET
I can’t pinpoint when I first fell in love with baseball. It might be spring 1972, when as a first-grader I attended my first Texas Rangers game. The old Arlington Stadium was a former minor league ballpark expanded to be the Rangers’ home. I still remember the aluminum outfield bleacher seats, unbearable in the heat of a Texas summer.
It might have been the summers at my grandparents’ house, listening to the glory of play-by-play baseball on the radio. My maternal grandfather’s influence was strong; he played for the minor league San Antonio Indians in 1930, and my mom recently reminded me that my grandfather once played against Hall of Fame pitcher and broadcaster Dizzy Dean. My love for the game grew in the 1990s when I worked for the flagship radio station of the Rangers’ network. Anytime I wanted to see a game, I could walk to the back patio for a peek.
Baseball is unique in American sports. Walt Whitman described it as “our game — the American game.” Its rules predate the Civil War, making it older than other major, made-in-the-USA sports such as basketball and American football. Pro ballparks — iconic locations like Fenway and Wrigley — have been called “green cathedrals.”
But for too long, a player’s sexual orientation was the subject of whispers, innuendo and bigotry. Take the case of Glenn Burke — the first and only pro baseball player out to teammates and owners. Playing for the Dodgers and A’s from 1976 to ’79, Burke endured overt homophobia from managers and executives. An injury forced him to retire at 27, and after living in poverty for years, he died of AIDS-related complications in 1995.
The November 22 announcement that Major League Baseball and its players’ association would add sexual orientation nondiscrimination to their new collective bargaining agreement is a significant milestone on the road to equality. With that decision, four of the major sports leagues in the United States have similar protections. The November 26 settlement between the NBA players and owners may make that five after their contract language is finalized.
The groundwork for this monumental change was likely laid after an incident last April. An Atlanta Braves coach made homophobic comments to San Francisco Giants fans. Gloria Allred and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation got involved. Later, after the NFL added sexual orientation nondiscrimination to its labor agreement, I wrote MLB and the players’ association asking for similar protections. I received positive responses not only from baseball’s chief labor negotiator but also Commissioner Bud Selig himself.
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