Baseball’s first openly gay player


[MUSIC PLAYING] BIANNA GOLODRYGA: And now to another story that is getting a lot of attention today in the world of sports and beyond. David Denson became the first openly gay player in the major league history to actively be playing in the league. He’s currently a first baseman on the Milwaukee Brewers minor league team in Montana. Billy Bean is the first ambassador for inclusion for Major League Baseball. He came out after he stopped playing and helped Denson get through the process of coming out on such a public stage. Billy, thank you so much for joining us. So now we have representation in all three major sports leagues in this country. How significant is that? BILLY BEAN: Well, we’ve had representation. Jason Collins was the first to come out, but he retired before last season. And Michael Sam never played a down in the NFL, but he received a lot of publicity because he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. So in essence, David really is a pioneer in that way. I played in the big leagues for six years and there’s only been two former big league players in 146 years of the history of baseball that ever disclosed that they were gay. The other was a gentleman named Glenn Burke who passed away 20 years ago. And it’s an interesting reality to where we are, because there has been so many wonderful progressive accomplishes for the LGBT community outside of sports. And David is of this generation and he is a recipient of great courage from pioneers like Martina Navratilova, Jason Collins, Brittany Griner, Robbie Rogers, players like that who are athletes like that, that in his eyes are positive, strong examples. And those are one of the things that I tried to do. He reached out to me, picked up the phone. He had heard about my return to baseball and was looking for someone to talk to and someone that he could trust. It’s been a long process for him. He’s in a place that I never was close to as a player. BIANNA GOLODRYGA: And talk about the work that you were able to help him with. I mean, I can only imagine the struggle of not only trying to be competitive in such a highly competitive league and group of people, but also having to deal with your own personal situation. BILLY BEAN: Well, I was fearful for him as a big brother in a mentor type role, and I thought that my job was to really just present the big picture. It was easy for him to get excited at the beginning. In baseball you have a lot of highs and lows. It’s a tough sport, the season is very long. And we kind of– I’m proud that we’ve made that process take a little more time. I made sure that he had been open with his family, his parents. He has a very strong support group. And that, I think, was the first message that I thought you don’t have to really make this disclosure behind a microphone. You can have a village of one or two and work towards being your best self in that way. And there is a lot to consider, because he will be the first person as he travels around and plays. He’s in the very low level of minor league, short season rookie ball, but he’s a professional baseball player. And I’m proud of him. He’s got a lot of courage. But the story is just beginning. BIANNA GOLODRYGA: Yeah, and hopefully it’s not just about his personal and his own sexuality that we’re going to be talking about it, it’s his performance out as an athlete as well. How has he been accepted by his peers, by his teammates? BILLY BEAN: Well, his teammates were the ones that were integral in him making the decision. I got a call, he had thought and we had talked at times that we were going to wait till after the season because he thought that might be less disruptive. You know, it’s a team sport. And I got a call late at night about three or four weeks ago. And he says, you’ll never guess what I did today. And just on a random conversation– again, they are young players– and someone made a comment and he challenged that person and he came forward to his team. And then he really felt like he was more comfortable from that experience. So he taught me a great lesson in that way with him trusting the environment that he’s in. And the truth is, is that’s all any athlete wants to be considered is for their athletic ability. And that it’s interesting how big of a story this remains, because at least for male athletes, there are so very few examples. And for a minute there was a NBA player, Jason, a great friend of mine and a great role model to our community and all athletes. And then Michael Sam, you know, he did not quite make it up to NFL, went to the CFL, and he’s done playing there now. BIANNA GOLODRYGA: Let me ask you, this maybe a controversial question. But how large of a role do you think the social stigma and the pressure of having come out as the first in their particular sports and to have to represent, I would say, their own sexuality, how much pressure is on a rookie player? BILLY BEAN: I think it’s a tremendous amount of pressure. And it’s not really that the player changes, it’s the environment around him. And the accumulation of between the media, a player wanting just to be treated for what’s going on between the lines, but each and every one of these three examples, Jason, Michael, and David, have brought this information to the world. And that’s a responsibility that they have to live up to and understand it good or bad. And that’s why I think as a– like I said– mentoring David in a way to just be prepared that if this is how you feel you’re going to be your best self– and it happened to me, I was away from baseball but when I finally let go and told the truth to my family and started living an honest life– I couldn’t believe how much happier I became. But David is choosing to do this now with his whole career in front of him. And then there’s no guarantee, a baseball player or any athlete. It could end tomorrow, and he hopefully will play for 15 years, but that remains to be seen. But he has felt certain that this is the way that he is going to be the best player he can be. So I’m standing on the sidelines rooting for him just the same. BIANNA GOLODRYGA: And while you were playing you were still closeted about your own sexuality, but of course now you’ve become the first ambassador for inclusion in Major League Baseball. You got the call from former commissioner Selig’s office last year. BILLY BEAN: Yes. BIANNA GOLODRYGA: Why come up with that position right now? Can you talk about homophobia in the major leagues, whether it’s baseball, football, or basketball? BILLY BEAN: Well, it was a total surprise to get the call. I felt like I was an ambassador for baseball even the 15 years I was away because I was the only example that there was of a former player, and carried myself that way the best I could. But I think baseball, much to their credit, realized that as a continued example of their social conscience that started with Jackie Robinson 70 years ago, that people want to know what baseball stands for. And they opened up their incredible history of diversity awareness and empowerment and added sexual orientation to that conversation. And the people in the office of commissioner, they looked around and they saw me out there and the conversation started. I don’t believe– well first of all to answer your question about homophobia in baseball. I think that that was an acceptable way to carry yourselves verbally in the old days, my generation. Not directly attacking people, but for men, the way we feminized other men, homophobia is wrapped in– BIANNA GOLODRYGA: Did your teammates know about you? BILLY BEAN: No. Nobody did. No, but it’s an educational process and understanding the responsibility that goes for every player that puts on that uniform, whatever team they play for, and what their employer stands for. And that makes me very proud to be back. The work, and I told you off camera, that the job has really expanded so quickly. And I see a great responsibility with it. It’s a privilege to be back, but I understand the importance. Because we are setting an example for the rest of society and for the other athletes, the young kids. How we talk in the high school, in the junior high level, in the scholastic level, NCAA, that really lends to how our young players who will become our professional stars in the future, how we treat each other. And the dialogue, the way that we talk about women in the workplace, the way we talk about kids, people from different cultures. Baseball has the biggest culture, the most languages, the collection of players coming from all over the world. And it’s something that I feel the most proud that we’re recognizing and that we’re in front of the conversation. And for the past year we prepared for this day. And David saw the work that I was doing, and as a young man I give him all the credit in the world. He picked up the phone and called me straight away and said, could I talk to you for a minute? BIANNA GOLODRYGA: Took a lot of courage. BILLY BEAN: It did. And he’s a brave young man. He’s a great kid. He’s got a lot of skills and talents. He’s young and everything’s in front of him. But I just couldn’t be prouder of him. Whether he makes it or not, he did a great thing this weekend, because it’s going to help other people moving forward. BIANNA GOLODRYGA: You mentioned Jackie Robinson. I’m curious, 20, 30 years from now, looking back at this discussion we’re having today, do you think people are going to be bewildered at the fact that we’re talking about sexual orientation when it comes to professional sports, or do you think it’s still going to be a stigma? BILLY BEAN: I hope so. I hope we look back and wonder how could that be. But as you see reporting in the news every single day, you’re never going to have 100% people on board with any topic. And sometimes I feel like we’re making great progress and other times I think I see things on the news and we’re stepping way backwards. And it’s scary. But I think the only way that we can be sure that we’ll move forward is strong, consistent images that our young athletes, our students, going to schools in the community, talking about what their hero stands for. I always tell the players, I said, we’re not here to challenge your religion, your personal live. But the power of an accepting, embracing message, you can’t even quantify how much it means and what it means to someone that those kids might never get a chance to say thank you, but it’s life changing. And their lives are saved. BIANNA GOLODRYGA: Well Billy, thank you so much for joining us and continued luck in the second chapter of your professional career now in dealing with baseball. And of course, best of luck to David as well. BILLY BEAN: All right, thank you for having me. BIANNA GOLODRYGA: Thank you for joining us. We always look forward to hearing what you have to say, so use #yahoolive and let us know what you think about the latest on these big developments from baseball, and of course on Donald Trump’s immigration plans. Thanks for watching. I’m Bianna Golodryga. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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