Is baseball ready for an openly gay player?
By Eno Sarris
The Athletics had an LGBT Pride event Wednesday night, and the night was peppered with love for many people that haven’t always felt comfortable at the ballpark.
Opera Singer Breanna Sinclaire, the first trans singer accepted into the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s master’s program according to the San Francisco Chronicle, sang the anthem. According to Major League Baseball, she was also the first trans singer to perform the anthem.
MLB ambassador of inclusion Billy Bean was in the building, and was part of the impetus for the event, as the news of this event came out after he addressed the Athletics in Spring Training.
Sean Doolittle‘s partner Eireann Dolan helped improve the event, as she not only offered to buy back tickets from disgruntled ticketholders with a heartfelt and funny letter, but also started a GoFundMe to help pay for even more donated tickets to members of Our Space, AIDS Project East Bay and Frameline, a nonprofit LGBTQ cinema foundation.
It seemed like a good time to ask the ballplayers willing to comment about the issue at hand: is baseball ready for an openly gay player, and what obstacles might they face when it happens? Even with a few “no comments,” the opinions given all had their own unique angle, and showed that even a ready country and sport will not make the first openly gay player’s professional life easy.
Athletics pitcher Sonny Gray: “I don’t think it would be a problem with pretty much anyone. I don’t think it would be a problem at all. I’m not really sure what problems they’d face, I’ve never really thought about it. I’m sure it will happen sooner than later, and I think that when that times comes, it’ll be completely fine with everyone.”
Athletics outfielder Sam Fuld: “I don’t think there’s any doubt that baseball’s ready. I just think we’re ready, especially now that there’s been a little bit of movement in basketball and football, since Jason Collins and Michael Sam — at least to some degree — paved the way for a major leaguer to come out. If there’s any clubhouse in any part of the country that’s ready for it, this is it. The Bay Area is certainly a progressive place. Inevitably there is going to be some backlash. Not necessarily from inside the clubhouse, but outside. I think you can equate it to some degree with Jackie Robinson, and the pioneering that he did. Certainly a different dynamic, but there are a lot of parallels. If a player were to come out, he’d certainly get heckled, and I’m sure that would be a challenge. Inevitably, wether it happens tomorrow or five years from now, it’s going to be challenging for the player. But for that player, it would probably be worth it in the long run. And in the short run — you hear people talk about what a relief it is to come out and be comfortable with themselves. They’d probably be willing to deal with the negative commotion that comes with it.”
Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick: “It’s tough to say. You never know until it actually happens. I don’t want to say we are and say we aren’t at the same time, but I don’t know how guys will act in certain situations. It’s just something we have to wait for to see when it happens. A lot of guys are so used to not dealing with it, and not even really thinking about it. Not saying all of us are homophobes by any means, it’s just [you] never know how it’s going to be taken by certain guys, what guys are not going to want to change in front of them, because you never know how comfortable they are going to be in that perspective. It’s not like we’d treat him any different in here or out there; he’s still your teammate, and that’s what you gotta focus on.”
Padres pitcher Tyson Ross: “I think this country as a whole is evolved from where we were a long time ago — events like this. I don’t think it really matters. People are people, baseball players are baseball players. I come from a pretty diverse place, growing up in the Bay Area, but I think it’s about letting the best players play. That’s what it’s about.”
Padres outfielder Justin Upton: “Baseball is a sport that’s America’s game. As far as being American, you can do what you want to do and be who you want to be. It’s one of those things where, any time you’re the first person to do anything, there’s going to be a lot of media, a lot of things going on, and those are things that the person would have to handle in that position. But baseball is America’s game and that’s why we live in this country and enjoy these freedoms. If you can hack it, you can play.”
Retired outfielder Billy Beane: “Today is a perfect win for this organization and for baseball. Nobody is expecting them to be experts or to understand fully the magnitude of having a transgender person sing the national anthem… Whether the players are ready to let it scratch the surface of their consciousness, I think the bigger, more important point is that fans and the community see what the A’s stand for, and it’s going to have a lasting impression on a lot of people that aren’t going to have the chance to say thank you today… It’s just a simple message of acceptance and embracing our differences. The beauty is that today, we have one thing in common: we all love baseball. There are a lot kids, all types, especially in the LGBT community, where an environment like this was a source of great pain and fear because they did not feel that they could be themselves.
“When you’re playing pickup basketball in the park, three or five on each side, they don’t know each other when they get there, but if you become one group and you work together and you win, then you get to keep playing and playing, and there’s a fairness to that… For me, knowing what it felt like even on the field, when I just buried my secret deeper and deeper, even then I was afraid to tell my own family. I chose to leave baseball before I had the talk with my own parents. My mom said it was harder for them to accept that I wasn’t a baseball player than it was for them to accept that I was gay because they love that so much. It was like a knife in my heart because at that time I’d been out of baseball for two years and I didn’t realize that me walking away took that away from my family.
“That’s the core of the message when I do talk to players. It’s not about changing the way they think, or their religion, it’s really about the wonderful opportunity and privilege it is to be a baseball player, and all the wonderful things that go with that. And now that baseball is supportive of the message of inclusion for every type of diversity that wants to come through the turnstiles, or hopefully work for a team someday, I don’t think they find it such a huge obstacle to get past. I think they see the simplicity of that.”
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