What Ayanbadejo didn’t know was that one baseball player already had. This week’s coming out by NBA player Jason Collins is momentous, but the Jackie Robinson of gay rights was Glenn Burke, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s from 1976 to 1979. He tried to change sports culture three decades ago—but back then, unlike now, sports culture wasn’t ready for a change.
Burke made no secret of his sexual orientation to the Dodgers front office, his teammates, or friends in either league. He also talked freely with sportswriters, though all of them ended up shaking their heads and telling him they couldn’t write that in their papers. Burke was so open about his sexuality that the Dodgers tried to talk him into participating in a sham marriage. (He wrote in his autobiography that the team offered him $75,000 to go along with the ruse.) He refused. In a bit of irony that would seem farcical if it wasn’t so tragic, one of the Dodgers who tried to talk Burke into getting “married,” was his manager, Tommy Lasorda, whose son Tom Jr. died from AIDS complications in 1991. To this day, Lasorda Sr. refuses to acknowledge his son’s homosexuality.
I certainly knew that Burke had come out after he retired, but had no idea that he was out to his teammates and the press during his career. This doesn’t in any way diminish the significance of Collins coming out — that Burke wasn’t out to the public is a crucial distinction! — but it’s an interesting piece of history all the same.
…agree with commenters that the original Inside Sports piece is also terrific.