All-Star Game to Pay Tribute to Glenn Burke, First Openly Gay MLB Player

By Jamilah King Jul 16, 2014

There are now enough openly gay professional athletes in America that the phrase "LGBT Sports Movement" has entered our cultural lexicon. Brittney Griner, Jason Collins, Michael Sam — they’re all pioneering black gay athletes whose bravery deserves attention. But so too does Glenn Burke, a Major League Baseball player who came out of the closet during the 1970s. Now, 40 years after Burke’s coming out and 20 years after his death from AIDS, Major League Baseball will publicly honor him at this year’s All-Star Game.

"He was a pioneer, and should be recognized," said Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney, speaking to the New York Times.

But that recognition was a long time coming.  Burke’s career was cut short by injury — and ignorance. "Deep inside, I know the Dodgers traded me because I was gay," he said in a 1982 Inside Sports profile about being traded from Los Angeles to Oakland. 

Al Jazeera’s Gregg Levine noted:

Glenn Burke was also gay. He wasn’t "out" by any definition — certainly not a contemporary one — but he didn’t do some of the things other closeted players at the time would do. He didn’t go out "girl hunting" with teammates on road trips. He didn’t marry a woman for appearances (even though the Dodgers offered to help him financially if he did). He didn’t avoid the spotlight, though he once said, looking back, he thought it would be easier to be a mediocre player that few people recognized.

Burke, instead, wanted to excel. Beyond his natural competitive spirit, he reportedly hoped his success and fame would be big enough to allow him to live openly as a gay athlete.

The league has invited Burke’s family to this year’s All-Star game in Minneapolis, where they’ll witness the first official dedication to the movement that he started. 

(h/t The New York Times)