• Thu, May 9 2013

What It Was Like To Be A Gay Athlete In 1982

jason collins

One of the things that seemed nicest about NBA star Jason Collins‘ coming out was the fact that everyone seemed incredibly supportive. It was not always such. At the time Collins announced he was gay Jamie wrote that:

Many people have already released statements in support of Collins, including Kobe Bryant, his teammates, the Washington Wizards team president, his brother Jarron Collins (also a pro-baller), his friend Chelsea Clinton (with whom he attended Stamford), and former president Bill Clinton. The President has yet to say anything officially, but White House spokesman Jay Carney has already said that the White House supports him, obviously.

That was delightful to hear, but not entirely surprising. After all, we live in a time when the President supports gay marriage. Jamie was correct to say that the White House would support him obviously.

Wow, we did not always live in that time. Up until very recently, we did not live in that time. There’s a great article on Deadspin right now that was originally published in the 1982 issue of Inside Sports. It deals with “the double life of a Gay Dodger” which, if you thought he was some sort of “artful dodger,” is the name of a baseball team.

What was life like for Glenn Burke, a gay baseball player in the mid-70′s? Awful. It was awful.

His teammates noticed. In baseball, even married men can be made to feel isolated if they do not join the woman-hunt on the road. “There is a tendency,” said A’s pitcher Matt Keough, “to achieve the success off the field that you are not achieving on it.”

“I had a really cute cousin that I tried to set up with Glenn,” Baker said. “He just ignored her. He’d say, ‘Too fat, too ugly.’ I’d say, ‘Wait a minute. I know that one ain’t ugly.’”

Without Burke realizing it, word began to seep. “I was eating at a restaurant when someone told me,” remembered Lopes, then a teammate on the Dodgers. “I think some girl from his neighborhood in Oakland had told someone on the team. My fork dropped out of my mouth. He was one of the last guys you would have thought was gay. I still liked him. I don’t know how other ballplayers feel, but I believe a man has a right to choose any lifestyle as long as it doesn’t infringe on others. It never infringed with Glenn.”

“The guys didn’t want to believe it,” Baker said. “He was built like King Kong. There was no femininity in his voice or his walk. But it all made sense when I thought about it. When we’d go on the road he always went to the YMCA to work out. And he’d never let us take him home. He’d say he had a friend coming later to pick him up and he’d wait at the far end of the parking lot.

“I just made the situation invisible, but some guys began to make jokes. Stuff like, ‘Is Glenn waiting in the parking lot for his girlfriend?’ and ‘Don’t bend over in the shower when he’s around.’ I know a couple of guys felt uncomfortable in the shower. A few wore towels on their way back and forth in the locker room.

And in case you were wondering, no one came to his support on any of this. The Dodgers supposedly offered him financial aid if he’d get married, before trading him, which they claimed had nothing to do with rumors regarding his sexuality. However, he said “deep inside, I know the Dodgers traded me because I was gay”. Go here to read the entire article, and take it as a reminder that it is so much better for people that things have gotten better.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=702330215 Jerry Pritikin

    There is a great documentary called “OUT,The Glenn Burke Story. I recommend it to all jocks, and even those who may not like sports. I knew Glenn as a friend (and had a cameo in the documentary) and met him when he still played with the Dodgers in 1977. Glenn had the misfortune to play for 2 of baseball’s worst homophobic managers,Tommy Lasorta and Billy Martin. Glenn used to date Tommy’s gay son and was the main reason for him to be traded to the Oakland A’s. At his last Spring Training Martin introduced Glenn to his teammates as… This is Glenn Burke,and by-the-way he’s a fagot!