Of the four commercial North American sports, modern-day baseball has the deepest roots and oldest traditions. People on the inside will tell you that baseball is still a good ol’ boys club and adverse to change in many ways, but today, baseball seems to have finally caught up with the times.
A joint news release from Major League Baseball and the Players Union confirmed a New York Daily News report that “sexual orientation” will be added to the discrimination clause of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement. The league announced the new five-year agreement on Tuesday (which also includes more wildcard teams in the playoffs, expanded use of video replay and testing for human growth hormone).
From the Daily News, “Article XV, Section A of MLB’s expiring Basic Agreement, in effect from 2006-2011, states: ‘The provisions of this Agreement shall be applied to all Players covered by this Agreement without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.’ In the new agreement, the words “sexual orientation” were added to Article XV.”
As a side note, the National Football League added a similar clause to it’s new CBA during the lockout last summer.
The website Wide Rights, Info And Commentary On Gay Rights And The Sports Industry makes a great point about why this addition is so important.
Tico Almedia, the president of LGBT organization Freedom to Work told the website, “In a majority of states in our country, it is still perfectly legal to fire someone just for being gay, and 13 of the 30 Major League teams are located in those states that allow anti-gay firings. No player should have to fear harassment or workplace retaliation if he were to publicly come out as gay.”
For a list of the teams located in states which do not have laws protecting against gay discrimination in the workplace, click here http://www.widerights.com/?p=1383
This news reminded me of Glenn Burke’s story. Remember Burke, the young outfielder who showed a lot of promise with the Dodgers in the mid-1970’s and was mysteriously traded to the Oakland A’s for next to nothing, seemingly out of nowhere? At 26 years old, Burke abruptly retired in 1980 and went into a tailspin using drugs and eventually being diagnosed with AIDS in 1994. Only 42 years old, Burke died of complications from the disease in 1995.
As a favorite among fans and Dodgers teammates alike, Burke slowly revealed his sexuality to his teammates throughout his brief tenure in L.A. In Out: The Glenn Burke Story, filmmakers tell the story of Burke’s life and how coming out as a gay man derailed his baseball career. In the film, Dusty Baker, who was Burke’s best friend on the team said, “I think the Dodgers knew; I think that’s why they traded Glenn [to Oakland].”
“I was shocked that he was traded… I walked into the clubhouse…and guys were visibly distraught over the trade, and that told me that my sense of how important he was to them internally was accurate,” said former Dodgers beat writer Lyle Spencer. “I even remember a few players crying when they found out about it at their lockers, which is stunning.”
One might ask, how do you know the Dodgers organization knew? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence which confirms suspicions. Vincent Trahan, a friend of Burke’s from high school told the following story in the documentary.
“Al Campanis and Walter O’Malley had called him into the office and offered him $75,000 to get married. And Glenn, being his comic self, said, ‘I guess you mean to a woman?’… He was hurt because they traded him not for his baseball ability but for his life choice.”
This is the type of treatment that the new addition to the CBA is designed to stop. While the clause will hopefully protect gay players from discrimination on a structural/organizational level, it will do little to curb the homophobia that is still so deeply rooted in male sports culture.
The closing paragraph in the Daily News article about the CBA addition highlights the potential for prejudice among players within a clubhouse.
"Still, there remains disagreement within locker rooms whether an MLB team is ready to accept an openly gay teammate. When news of the same-sex marriage law broke, several Mets said privately they would be uncomfortable with an openly gay teammate (while others said they would be comfortable). ‘Most of us are still Neanderthals,’ one Met explained."
While I feel like one public admission of being gay would be enough to get the ball rolling and help change the anti-gay culture in sports, I can’t blame athletes and coaches for staying in the closet. Having spent hours upon hours in locker rooms and clubhouses, the thought of being the sacrificial lamb to brave that new world is a terrifying one, as anti-gay language is quite prevalent in that environment.
Having said that, there are some teams out there right now that have the personnel to handle having a gay teammate. There are hundreds of professional athletes who would welcome gay teammates with open arms. As the laws change and society adjusts, so will the athletic community, which is why I believe we will see the first openly gay player in North American sports come out within the next five years.
Read more from the New York Daily News’ article on the new MLB CBA here: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mlb-collective-bargaining-agreement-add-sexual-orientation-discrimination-clause-article-1.981161#ixzz1eZHCoSOB