First off, this post is not about David DeJesus, Edwin Encarnacion, or Lance Berkman, unless one of them happens to be gay. We don't know, because since Glenn Burke came out to teammates and ownership in the late 1970s, no gay major league baseball player has come out -- not to teammates, not to owners, not to fans -- while he was still playing. And if you watched "Out At Home: The Glenn Burke Story," aired this past Wednesday on CSN Bay Area and airing again next Tuesday night at 8:00pm on the same channel, you understand why gay athletes tend to keep their sexual orientation to themselves.
Burke's story is both tragic and gripping, and if you missed it this past week I'd recommend you catch it if you can this coming week. It's the story of Burke's immense talent and charisma, his checkered major league career, his unprecedented courage in coming out while playing for the Dodgers, his trade to an A's organization that did not always treat him well, and his rather steep fall from "one of a kind" talent and personality to "just another statistic" -- Burke died of AIDS, following periods of drug use, incarceration, and homelessness, at the age of 42.
I actually learned a lot I didn't know about Glenn Burke by watching the one-hour documentary, such as how good a basketball player he was and how electric his personality was. I also learned a lot I know, such as how unforgiving the sports world is around the issue of homosexuality. It's not the easiest hour at times, but it's an hour well worth your time.
The documentary cites an estimated 3%-6% of the male population as being gay, and if you go with the lower figure you get that out of 750 players on next year's Opening Day roster approximately 22 of them identify as gay. You wonder when one will come out and whether it will follow Jackie Robinson's path of "breaking a barrier" or whether it will follow Burke's path of just breaking the player.
I have to think that professional athletes across the major sports know that's only a matter of time before someone comes out publicly and paves the way for others to do the same, and we enter an era where it is, if not commonplace, at least not unheard of for a professional athlete to come out during his/her career in MLB, the NBA, or the NFL. That day may be months or years away, but I don't think it's decades or centuries away.
Featured in the documentary, among others, are Billy Bean (if you're not familiar with this particular Billy Bean, he is gay and came out after retiring from a 6-year career with the Tigers, Dodgers, and Padres), who comes across as very intelligent, Shooty Babbitt, Claudell Washington, Davey Lopes, and Reggie Smith.
No, the documentary doesn't have a happy ending, but yes I'd recommend it. Glenn Burke may be the least famous athlete ever to hold such an amazing distinction -- can you name anyone else who has played major league baseball, basketball, or football who, while still playing, acknowledged his homosexuality? Kudos to the next guy -- and I really hope it turns out better for him than it did for Burke.