Next year will mark the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration of baseball. Although the first few seasons was tough for the Hall of Famer, baseball was a better game because of it.
Because of his struggle, his No. 42 adorns every stadium in the game.
Over the years, players from other cultures have come into the sport – most notably Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates Icon, who tragically passed away in 1972. Since 2000, there’s been a movement out there to retire his No. 21 throughout the game.
Although the game is adorned with players from many different cultures, there is still a stigma out there with a player from the LGBT community.
Historically, the clubhouse has always been a closed community and closeted players had to keep quiet with fear of retribution. Pitchers would have had their pitches tipped, batter would get nothing to hit or get thrown at, and fans in opposing parks would yell homophobic slurs at the visiting team.
“Feminizing a man has always been part of competitive sports,” said Major League Baseball’s Vice President of Social Responsibility and Inclusion Billy Bean, who was the first baseball player to “come out” after retiring from the game. “The message is everyone is welcome that walks through the turnstiles to watch us play baseball. The LGBT community is part of every community.”
So last year the Commissioner’s office hired Bean to his current position, which is to educate players on being more tolerant, while helping baseball become a more inclusive sport to the LGBT community.
Earlier this season, when the Mets were in Kansas City, the Royals played American Woman by The Guess Who when Noah Syndergaard was warming up would fall under Bean’s jurisdiction to educate staff members. Although, he didn’t go to Kansas City, he was invited to Seattle to educate the Mariners after a Lesbian couple claimed the staff told them to be less affectionate.
And today, Bean was at Citi Field for the first LGBT Pride Night. Famous for their ethnic night, the Mets partnered with the LGBT Network of Long Island and Queens to do the first night like this in the four major sports in New York.
“It makes me very proud to see their organization display such a powerful example of inclusion,” Bean said, “and a message of acceptance of anyone who loves the game of baseball.”
David Kilmnick, who is the CEO of the LGBT network, said that a portion of the funds from the 5,000 tickets sold tonight by his group would go to an anti-bullying program, since 82 percent of LGBT youth report being verbally and physically harassed.
“We are very grateful and thankful to Major League Baseball for taking the lead in professional sports including the LGBT community in its diversity priorities and initiatives,” said Kilmnick, who is a lifelong Mets fan and felt that this was a perfect opportunity to bring a Pride Night to New York.
Other teams, including Chicago Cubs, Boston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle Tampa Bay, and Washington have a Pride Night, but having it in New York meant more, because as Mets Chief Revenue officer Low DePaolo said, “New York is the most diverse and inclusive city in the world.
All of this work by Bean and on a lesser scale Kilmnick means the sport is getting closer and closer to becoming a welcoming environment of those from the LGBT community. It’s foolish to think there are no closeted players out there, and Bean is trying to make the clubhouse easier for those who identify with the LGBT.
And if he does his job right, the first active openly LGBT ballplayer will have a lot easier time than Jackie Robinson did back in 1947.