The Gay History of the High Five

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com April 19 2012 4:13 PM ET

The high five is the official greeting of locker rooms, sports stadiums, and fraternity houses everywhere. In fact, today is National High Five Day, essentially a fun way to raise funds for cutting-edge cancer research. But did you know that this gesture was probably invented by a gay man?

There are several accounts of when the high five was invented, but many lead back to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and outfielder Glenn Burke. Known as "King Kong" for his massive biceps and stunning physique, Burke waited on deck for his chance at bat on an October 2, 1977 game against the Houston Astros. Left fielder Dusty Baker just hit his 30th home run, putting them ahead of the Astros and into the playoffs. As his teammate came back from rounding the bases, Burke thrust his hand in the air. Baker felt the instinct to slap palms, and so he did.

"So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do," said Baker, who is now managing the Cincinnati Reds according to The Week.

Right after, Burke then hit his first major league home run during his at-bat. When he returned to the dugout, Baker gave him a high five. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Burke was known as the "soul" of the Dodger Clubhouse, even while possibly carrying on a relationship with the son of baseball legend and then-Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda. But the older Lasorda Sr. was not pleased by such rumors. He often chewed Burke out and continuously denied that his son was gay. Eventually Burke was later traded to the Oakland A's where he faced discrimination and harassment from team mates, especially under manager Billy Martin, according to ESPN. He was demoted to Triple-A ball in 1980, and retired at age 27.

But Burke found solace while playing in a San Francisco softball league, and dominated the Gay Softball World Series. He became known around the Castro as a neighborhood figure, and in 1982, he came out in Inside Sports magazine, where writer Michael J. Smith" called the high five a "defiant symbol of gay pride."

The former outfielder struggled with drugs, and in 1993, he tested positive for HIV. Two years later, he passed away after a rapid decline. His obituary read that at the end of his life, the man who invented the high-five "could barely lift his arm."

Though his career and life were cut short, his legacy lives on at every Little League game and post-sales-presentation happy hour across the country and around the world.

"Now when something great happens in life, people do the high-five," his sister Lutha Davis says. "I call it 'the high-five of life.'"