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Op-ed: How Gay Baseball Player Glenn Burke Made Bryant Gumbel Nervous

Op-ed: How Gay Baseball Player Glenn Burke Made Bryant Gumbel Nervous

Bryant Gumbel had never been more flustered. I had just gone public with my homosexuality in 1982, through a magazine article, and Bryant was interviewing me on the Today show. We talked about my being the first major leaguer to ever come out and confirm his homosexuality and how difficult it was being a gay professional athlete. As the interview was coming to a close, I presented Bryant with a Pendulum Pirates’ softball cap. The Pendulum Pirates was the name of the gay softball team I was playing for at the time. Bryant didn’t know what to say. He was actually speechless!

The guys at the Pendulum Club, the team’s sponsor, were ecstatic! They threw a big party for me the next time I went in there. The party wasn’t just for giving the Pendulum Club national notoriety. It was also for striking a chord for the gay movement. There I was, on national television, a gay man talking about his baseball career. It was unprecedented.

I had met Gumbel before. He used to be a sportswriter in Los Angeles before moving on to network television news and sports. I always liked and respected Bryant for all he had accomplished. Despite some of the negative press he’s received throughout the years in regards to his family life, I admire the fact he was one of the first high-profile black journalists. And I remember him when he was just starting out.

The magazine article that I had made my sexual orientation public through was named, appropriately enough, “The Double Life of a Gay Dodger,” and went to print for the October 1982 edition of Inside Sports. It was written by the man I had been lovers with for six years, Michael J. Smith.

Michael was always so political about everything and had wanted me to come out since my days with the Dodgers. I never wanted to make my orientation public for several reasons. And I still really didn’t give Michael permission to write the article about me in 1982. He did it anyway.

Michael had reasons for writing that article that went beyond politics. He had a huge ego and wanted to get the publicity that such a news item would bring him. He also thought that if he wrote the piece, I’d move back in with him. We had been living apart at the time. And he also did it for the money, which was pretty substantial for a feature like this one in those days. I never did see any of that money. Michael kept it all.

I felt the article was written extremely well. However, there were things in there that I never would have permitted him to write. Things that were personal and very embarrassing. But even though we were on‑again, off-again lovers at the time, he never showed me what he had written before he submitted it to Inside Sports.

There were several items in the article that were particularly humiliating. Not to mention untrue.

The article stated that I was naive to the gay culture in the Castro as a child growing up in Oakland. That’s not true. I knew it existed. I knew there was a place for gays. How did Michael think I found the Castro in 1975? Shit, the place is only a twenty-minute drive from Berkeley.

He also wrote that shit that Mike Norris, my A’s roommate, allegedly told him. Michael wrote that Norris said he was nervous around me knowing I was gay. That he would stay out of our room at night until midnight and then worry that I would make a move on him. That the entire A’s team was watching out for me. It’s bullshit. No one knew about my sexual preferences. Hardly any of those guys were around for more than a cup of coffee with how Charlie was running the club. And even if Norris had known I was gay, he was smart enough to know I never would have made a move on him. I mean, that’s ridiculous. A gay man making a move on a straight man is just plain stupid. I just can’t imagine Norris saying any of that bullshit.

And the last major problem I had with the article was Michael quoting me as saying, “I didn’t know if I could be gay without being a sissy.”

He had to have been kidding with that one. I had seventeen-inch biceps and loved the fact I was built like a fucking tank. I couldn’t be a sissy if I wanted to. Not even in my wildest dreams. I knew that from the first moment I came out. Homosexuals come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve always accepted that fact.

But now, almost thirteen years since Michael wrote that article, I figure if the article helped the gay movement even a little bit, it wasn’t such a bad thing. And I think it probably did help.

In a city like San Francisco, there’s a lot of gay politics that goes on. And some people have their own agenda. Michael was one of those people. Michael probably “used” me on this project a little bit. But again, if the final result helped the movement, I’m glad I was a part of it.

America, in general, puts a great deal of emphasis on living the straight and narrow lifestyle. Just check out the commercials during a football game. It’s just a steady stream of motherfuckers guzzling beer and chasing women. A great part of society still doesn’t know how to deal with homosexuality. And there is no sport that accepts gays less than baseball.

There are currently gays in baseball. Just as I wasn’t close to being the only homosexual when I was playing ball. And some of those contemporaries of mine were superstars. I won’t name them specifically, because I’m not into “outing” dudes, but people would be very surprised.

Glenn Nurke Book 0
Gay players live a double life to survive in baseball. But at least they know exactly where they’re coming from. To me, it wasn’t always hell living the double life. It could actually be kind of fun in certain situations. No one knew where I was coming from. I’d walk through the locker room like a real macho man. And after the Dodgers, A’s, and the rest of baseball found out I was gay, they’d say, “Glenn Burke?!”

It threw them for a loop. It had to. And some of them might have looked in the mirror and thought, “Shit, I could be gay, too.”

You wake up one morning, like I did, and realize that you could be gay. Trust me. That’s how it happens.

 

Reprinted from Out at Home by Glenn Burke with Erik Sherman and foreword by Billy Bean by arrangement with Berkley, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House company, Copyright © 2015

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