GOOD

Major League Baseball’s Ambassador For Inclusion Is Reshaping Big League Locker Rooms

An openly gay ex-player is on a mission to change baseball

Billy Bean is devoted to to baseball. For nearly 10 years, Bean played outfielder for the Tigers, Dodgers, and Padres, and in 1999 he became the second Major League Baseball player to come out of the closet, and the first to do so publicly, in an interview with the Miami Herald. In 2014, Bean returned to MLB when the league named him its first Ambassador for Inclusion, a role where he advises the commissioner on human rights issues, especially those that affect the LGBTQ community and antibullying efforts. He sees his job as an opportunity to communicate with players, coaches, managers, umpires, employees, and other club stakeholders to ensure an equitable, inclusive, and supportive workplace.


GOOD spoke with Bean about his first three years on the job, and how the environment in professional sports has changed, especially in light of recent decisions by the NBA and NFL to take stands against cities that sanction discrimination.

GOOD: You played MLB from the late 1980s until 1995. And in 1999, you were the second Major League Baseball player to come out. What was the environment like back then for gay baseball players? How does the environment for gay players in the MLB compare today?

I think then, there weren't images of any kind to make me feel like it was a possibility to come out. I come from a conservative background. I was the oldest of five boys. My family did not introduce me to anyone who was LGBT, and I was always involved in sports. I was in the big leagues at the age of 21, and I played football, basketball, and baseball in high school. So I was never really exposed to it. While I was playing, it did not seem like an unfriendly environment to LGBT people, it just seemed like more of the same. Anytime you are around a bunch of alpha males who are world-class athletes, when guys are ragging each other back and forth—you know, the feminization of men has been a part of that lexicon forever. That's why it's important in our messaging now that we talk about how to respect women in the workplace because all homophobia in my opinion is wrapped up in misogyny is some way or another. So I don't think there was anybody who made it a point to make it an unfriendly environment. It was just that the two worlds did not collide. There were no images of athletes who were pioneering or of role model status. It's really the one reason I say all the time that when … I became sort of a household name overnight, it wasn't because I came out, it was because I played MLB and I came out, so it was a combination of a couple of things.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]We are the sport of Jackie Robinson and we pride ourselves on being in front of that conversation on the entire diversity spectrum.[/quote]

Glenn Burke was the first person (to do so) but he wasn’t in a position to champion the rights of the LGBT community. His life ended in a horrific way—he was homeless, HIV positive, and had a drug addiction, a lot of that a culmination of having baseball taken away from him and not being able to realize what he was meant to do in this life. I dedicated my book to him without ever knowing him. I think that I use that, the motivation from those disappointing moments, some of my own, to try to create a culture that is inclusive and helps players understand that, while they may or may not ever have an LGBT teammate, that's not the point of being accepting. It's them understanding the bigger message of responsibility of playing in the major leagues, the expectations of fans that look up to them, the integration of social media—the players have never been closer to their fans than they are now. What they say matters. In a perfect world we can say we should all get along and love each other, but we don't have the luxury of waiting that long for everyone to be on board. So we are all in some ways ambassadors of our sport, and I try to convey to them that to be a big leaguer, part of the responsibility is what you do and say away from the field. Clubs are now not going to stand by athletes that are disparaging. They are going to by and large protect the brand and our workplace code of conduct, which in baseball is a nondiscrimination, antiharassment environment that says there will be no tolerance of that kind of behavior based on your race, your color, your religion, your national origin, your sexual orientation, your gender identity, your age. We have a very inclusive environment.

GOOD: Despite an arguably more welcoming environment, remarkably few professional sports players—in the MLB, NFL or NBA—have come out. Why do you think the stigma persists, and what can be done to make more professional athletes feel comfortable about coming out?

Every single athlete's choice to do so is individual and private to what their value system is. We're not waiting for another athlete to come out to give us a better grade on a report card for the work we're doing. The athletes are making a lot of considerations in order to make that decision, and part of is that that they have a very short amount of time to make a tremendous amount of money and take care of their family, and because it hasn't been done, there is some trepidation of how that will play out.

Now we have one example: Jason Collins. He was at the end of a 12-year career, he had cemented his relationship as a great teammate, he's well spoken, the perfect ambassador. I think we have to continue to create an environment that tells players that if indeed this is the decision they would like to make, that we are supportive. I make sure that everyone that I come in contact with knows that I am a resource for them in that context. But it's an incredibly complex decision. I know that our community is anxious and excited to see someone move the message forward, but until that happens, I have to lead the charge where it comes to how our in-game messaging is conveyed—that anyone who comes through a turnstile at a Major League venue sees that they're welcome, that the club wants them to be there, and that they are part of that family. If we have more and more players who are supportive, and even perhaps indifferent about a person's private life, then perhaps a player is going to be closer to making that decision. But if a player who wants to do that now is going to be looked at as a leader of a cause for inclusion and a role model overnight, that's a lot to put on someone who could very well be 22 or 23 years old. It took me a while to be self-accepting, because I wasn't raised in an environment that allowed me to address that sooner. Players look up to other players. There's an image that you want to emulate and a persona that the fans can gravitate toward. One thing I am certain, if a player is dealing with the same thing I was dealing with, I know that they are internally in a much better place, because we do have every club making a concerted effort to say that whoever or whatever we are, the message in baseball is that we are all one and we are a family.

GOOD: You were named the first LGBTQ ambassador to the MLB in 2014. Can you talk about the work you've done over the past three years, and the successes and failures in getting your message across?

It's a work in progress. Every day there was no definition, except that we had expanded our nondiscrimination workplace protections in baseball, and for the very first time, a former MLB player was able to convey that message to our players. There was no like “this is the job” that they posted on job sites. Baseball knew that we had a responsibility. We are the sport of Jackie Robinson and we pride ourselves on being in front of that conversation on the entire diversity spectrum, so the job has grown a lot in three years, from the novelty of me introducing myself to clubs—reintroducing if you will—because we didn't know how it was going to be accepted. Ironically, the first opening day when I was back in baseball, I had played with or against 27 out of 30 of our opening day managers, so there was much more of a connection to the sport than even I had anticipated. And so we moved from there. The world is changing, we have the NFL and the NBA bringing the LGBT conversation into mainstream sports reporting when the NBA moved their All-Star Game from a state that was discriminating against our community, and the NFL said they would not pick a site for a Super Bowl venue that had the same type of legislation. I don't even need to tell you how horrific last June 12th was for our players; we had two teams in that state. For the tragedy (at the Pulse nightclub) in Orlando, baseball stepped up hugely to show a message of support, and I was very proud, and you know, it was two years of work for me in the relationships that I had created. The Tampa Bay Rays lowered their prices to $5 per ticket and donated 100 percent of the proceed to the Pulse Victims Fund. That's an amazing gesture of community. And they asked me to throw out the first pitch and be a part of that process. Also, over those three years, we have a pervasive trend in baseball that the clubs really want to show that they are supportive of Pride Night around the league, which is maybe a one-evening symbol of a broader message throughout the organization. The type of resources that are being put in front of players and employees which are saying, hey, we as our organization are supportive and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind. Those kinds of things weren't going on five, six years ago. Of course I wish the environment were perfect, but we are making progress each and every day and that takes a little time to take hold. But the more consistent we are with that, the more opportunities there will be for players to convey our message. So when young players look up and follow the posts these players are putting on social media, pretty soon we will be seeing images of hey, Bryce Harper and David Price are saying LGBT teammates are just as cool as anyone else. We can’t supervise every conversation on a playground, but little by little we get to tackle bigger social issues and, hopefully, every kid will believe that they belong someday.

Sports
via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Communities
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

Lifestyle

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet