We’ve said hello (and goodbye) to Jason Collins and Michael Sam, but I can’t help but wonder why Major League Baseball hasn’t had its own openly gay player.
Minor leaguers Sean Conroy and David Denson came out this year, but only two gay players in the majors—Billy Bean and Glenn Burke—have disclosed their orientation, and both after retirement. (Burke was reportedly out to his teammates on the L.A. Dodgers, but it was never discussed publicly.)
Is it chance—that the right guy just hasn’t come along yet? Or is there something about the sport that makes it harder to come out?
“The obvious reason is no one has had the courage to do it,” OutSports’ Cyd Zeigler tells NewNowNext. But he admits the game presents some specific challenges.
“One of the things that makes baseball unique is the minor league system. People are brought up and put back all the time. In baseball, your position is always less secure than other pro sports.”
The MLB also draws on more players who skipped college and went straight from the minors, so they aren’t as exposed to other walks of life.
Where players are born can impact their feelings about homosexuality, as well: “There’s a huge influx of players from Central and South America and the Caribbean in baseball,” says Zeigler. “Guys who are often raised in very macho or Catholic communities.”
Ultimately, though, most players at least say they’d welcome a gay teammate. And fans are open to it as well. “This isn’t an issue with fans—it hasn’t been for a decade,” he adds.
Maybe an openly gay MLB player isn’t as important as we think. After all, the days of baseball being “America’s pastime” are long gone. “Football is king. Nothing changes American culture like football,” says Zeigler. “The NFL is the most powerful entertainment company in America.”
But baseball is making an effort: Many teams host Pride nights and MLB has even produced rainbow-themed hats, shirts and other merchandise. Last year, the league hired Billy Bean to be its first ambassador for inclusion.
“There’s no one specific reason” why a player hasn’t come out, Bean tells us. “For me, it was my upbringing. I was raised in a strict Catholic family and my dad was in the Marine Corps.”
By and large, though, he thinks it comes down to business: “The players need to know they’re going to be treated fairly,” he says. “It’s so hard to get to the top. By the time they’re there, they’ve weathered so many storms, this could feel like one more thing.”
Bean is eager to welcome that trailblazing player. “My goal is not to ask why haven’t we had one yet. But that, when we do, it’s a positive experience—so that maybe two or three more players feel comfortable coming out.”
Zeigler, though, says the front office has to lead the way.
“Players have to be convinced to come out—thats the only way that change happens,” he says. “The managers and owners are the only ones who can do it. They’ll say it’s not their job, but I’d say they have a greater responsibility to measure performance beyond the scoreboard.”