MINNEAPOLIS — The burden of being gay became too great for Billy Bean to bear during his playing career, so he quit rather than seek support for his secret.
Nearly two decades later, part of Bean’s new job will be to help keep someone else from making the same decision.
Major League Baseball has appointed Bean, who came out as gay after leaving the game, to serve as a consultant in guiding the sport toward greater respect, awareness and equality for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
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Commissioner Bud Selig made the announcement Tuesday before the All-Star game. Bean’s title will be "Ambassador for Inclusion," designed to provide guidance and training around the major and minor leagues while encouraging compliance with the joint MLB-MLB Players Association workplace code of conduct. He will also help create educational initiatives against sexism, homophobia and prejudice, presenting at annual events like the winter meetings and rookie career development program.
”I’m very proud that MLB is recognizing the social responsibility and the importance of this decision to provide and ensure an equitable and inclusive workplace,” Bean said. ”And I want to make sure that everybody understands that the history, the integrity of baseball is never going to change.”
There are no current major leaguers who have come out as gay. Bean played for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres over parts of six seasons and hit .226. His last season was with the Padres in 1995.
”As a young player I was trying to play with a very difficult secret, and I was living a life of deception and secrecy from my family, my friends, the people that loved me, and the people I loved the most, as well as my teammates,” Bean said, adding: ”I felt the best decision was to quit and walk away than to reach out, ask someone for a little guidance, a little help, or even talk to my own family. And it wasn’t much long after that, after I had walked away, that I realized how much I loved baseball and what a terrible mistake that felt like. And for the past 15 years of my life, I have been dedicated to try to make sure that no young athlete has made that same mistake. Because once you are unable to play, you realize what a gift it is, what an honor it is.”
Selig alluded to Jackie Robinson, the pioneer for black players, in labeling the sport a social institution.
”I am proud of our industry’s united stance, but the reality, not just in baseball, but in all of our society, is that we can never do enough to ensure respect and inclusion for everyone,” Selig said.
Bean was the second former MLB player to come out as gay after his career. Glenn Burke was the first.
Joining Bean and Selig at the announcement at MLB’s All-Star week fan festival was Lutha Burke, the sister of Glenn Burke, who died in 1995. Bean dedicated his autobiography, ”Going the Other Way,” to Glenn Burke, who hit .237 over four seasons for the Dodgers and Oakland Athletics.
”I have no doubt that Glenn would be very happy today,” Lutha Burke said, adding: ”When you are just busy trying to live a life and be a decent human being, and play the sport as best you can, with all the respect you can, it should be a done deal.”