The Los Angeles Dodgers are finally honoring Glenn Burke.
If you don’t know Burke’s story, you should, as he was first MLB player to come out as gay to teammates and ownership, something he did while playing back in the 1970s. What’s troubling, however, is that it’s taken this long for the Dodgers to acknowledge Burke’s baseball legacy, something they’re doing tonight for their ninth Pride Night.
Recruited to the Dodgers’ minor league system in 1971 and called up to the majors in 1976, Burke was driven out of the sport by prejudiced leadership after a four-year majors career that included appearances in a World Series game and multiple NLCS games.
After being forced into retirement at age 27 in 1980 because of his sexuality, the former outfielder turned to hard drugs and was arrested and imprisoned, eventually ending up homeless. He died at 42 in 1995 from complications due to AIDS.
Burke only played for two teams during his MLB tenure — the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Leadership from both clubs caused Burke professional and personal strife during his time in the league, including a Dodgers GM attempting to bribe him into marrying a woman, but only one club has since honored his legacy and the courage it took to come out as gay in the MLB in the late 1970s.
The A’s were the club that ultimately pushed him out of the sport, after new manager Billy Martin came on in 1980, introduced Burke to his new team members with a homophobic slur and promptly sent him to the minor leagues following a knee injury and then released him from his contract. That was the end of the professional career for the outfielder who was described by a Dodgers teammate as “the life of the team, on the buses, in the clubhouse, everywhere.”
The A’s were also the club to help him out financially after his AIDS diagnosis, to invite his brother to throw out the first pitch at their 2015 Pride Night, to rename their team’s annual Pride Night after Burke, and to pledge Pride Night ticket profits to the Glenn Burke Wellness Clinic at the Oakland LGBTQ Center.
And while these gestures don’t necessarily make up for the homophobic and bigoted treatment he received from teammates, fans, and executives, it’s an effort, at least, to right past wrongs.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, are long overdue in acknowledging Burke’s courage and legacy. Just last year, the L.A. Times reported that a search of his name on the Dodgers website “turns up blank,” and that the team had only mentioned his name once in the social media era in a 2012 tweet about the invention of the high-five, with which he, along with Dusty Baker, is credited. They had all but erased him from their collective memory. Until now.
Tonight, for the first time, the team for whom he played in a World Series game, has invited his family to celebrate Burke’s life and legacy in Dodger Stadium when they take on the Mets. Widely beloved by his teammates during his lifetime, the Dodgers’ delay in acknowledging Burke’s courage and in repenting the organization’s treatment of him is disappointing, to say the least. Overdue as it may be, it’s a good thing that it’s finally happening. Better late than never, right?
Per the New York Times, many believed that the reason the Dodgers sent Burke to Oakland was a result of his friendship with manager Tommy Lasorda’s son, who was also gay, and whose father publicly denied his sexuality up to and following the younger Lasorda’s death, which was also caused by AIDS complications.
Asked how he would react to hearing about the celebration of his life, Burke’s older sister, Luthan Burke Davis, told the New York Times, “Glenn probably would have said, ‘Dang, about time!’ He’d be grinning from ear to ear. He would be thrilled that he was thought about that much, really.”
In a sport where no active major league player has ever come out as gay, and only one former player besides Burke has (Billy Bean, the MLB’s Ambassador for Inclusion), the honoring of Burke’s memory and life holds real significance in both baseball history and in the sport’s current culture, as several MLB players have felt comfortable with expressing open homophobia as recently as 2015 (and, of course, there’s the Thom Brennaman incident in 2020).
In other sports, Robbie Rodgers became the first active openly gay player in a major team sport while playing for the L.A. Galaxy of the MLS. Jason Collins was the first openly gay active player in the NBA. And Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out just last year.
Original source here
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