When it comes to major league sports, there hasn't been a lot of room for LGBTQ players on the field. In fact, there is only one out man in the big five major sports leagues — Colin Martin, a soccer player and midfielder for the Minnesota United team.
The dearth of queer players is not necessarily a result of mistreatment by the big leagues but rather homophobia instilled at a young age, Martin says.
“There are kids out there that still are questioning themselves and questioning their spot in sports just based on their sexuality,” Martin told The Advocate this summer. “We need to have a better culture in place for our young kids.”
Major League Baseball is challenging that culture.
In honor of today's Spirit Day — an annual event promoted by GLAAD where millions wear purple to protest bullying of LGBTQ youth — MLB will splash their social media with violet and their employees will don the color.
“We are thrilled to participate in Spirit Day once again,” Billy Bean, the out MLB vice-president and special assistant to the commissioner, tells The Advocate. “Today we proudly stand up for LGBTQ youth, who are disproportionately singled out and targeted by bullies."
Bean, a former Tiger, Dodger, and Padre, will visit Houston today for Game Five of the American League Championship Series. It's part of Bean's continued effort to give everyone the chance "to play free of burden," as he told Outsports in 2014, when he returned to MLB "to help erase the same reason I left."
Under Bean, professional baseball also supports Shred Hate, a collaboration with ESPN and the X Games. Shred Hate uses professional athletes to push the message of No Bully, a nonprofit that trains school officials on how to end harassment in schools. Since its inception last year, Shred Hate has brought anti-bullying techniques to nearly 30,000 students across the country.
"MLB has made a profound commitment to educate against this epidemic and encourage our youth to choose kindness with our Shred Hate campaign," Bean explains. "Today’s league-wide effort is another example of MLB’s commitment to a message of acceptance and inclusion for everyone.”
In August, the Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Texas Rangers signed onto Shred Hate's mission to strike out bullying. The teams join the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, and Washington Nationals in efforts to end anti-LGBTQ harassment in stadiums and schools.
"The courageous stories shared by some of the students participating in the Shred Hate program, and who have been affected by this epidemic, inspire us to multiply our efforts," Bean says.
Through engaging conversations, No Bully and Shred Hate look to do more than a suspension can. Rather than disciplining children, the program utilizes workshops that train teachers, coaches, and youth sports administrators on how to build a longterm ,sustainable culture without harassment.
With an estimated 3.2 million students bullied each year, creating a harassment-free culture will not be easy. However, Shred Hate officials are determined to make the initiative an evolving one; they will evaluate the effectiveness of its performance through data. By monitoring how many incidents of bullying occur, their severity, and how actively fellow students, parents, and the community engages in creating solutions, they will revise their efforts to make it more effective.
Embracing LGBTQ youth is a meaningful first step, as queer children are often the first to be targeted and the last to be protected.
GLSEN reports that 85.2 percent of LGBTQ students have been verbally harassed, 63.5 percent have heard homophobic remarks from teachers and school staff, and 63.5 percent have reported an incident of bullying and said that their school did not act to protect them.
By going purple for Spirit Day and backing inclusive anti-bullying campaigns MLB is letting the world know they will step in to protect LGBTQ students even when schools will not.