Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Rant #954: The First, and the First Forgotten

As I said as an aside to my Rant yesterday, Jason Collins is getting all the recognition as the first currently active male athlete from any of the four major professional team sports in the U.S. to come out of the closet as being gay, but he was not the first such athlete to do so.

How soon we all forget, including myself.

The 1970s were a different time in our history.

Gays were still in the closet, afraid to come out for fear of losing their livelihoods and afraid that society would look at them in a different way.

In the mid-1970s, Glenn Burke was a highly prized draft prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was a multi-sport star in several sports in high school, and when he was drafted, he was listed as a "can't miss" prospect who had tools that were compared to those of a young Willie Mays.

After a short minor league career, he came up to the Dodgers in 1976, and he reportedly told the team and the team's adminstrators that he was gay.

Although he did not proclaim this to the world, his teammates and team officials knew about his sexuality from the get-go.

This led to a tumultuous, and very short career for Burke.

For whatever reason, he never lived up to his potential on the field, but off the field, even with his sexuality out in the open to his teammates and team officials, Burke was chastised.

There was supposedly an incident between him and Al Campanis, the Dodgers' GM who later was fired for making disparaging remarks about black ballplayers on national television.

According to Burke in his autobiography "Out At Home," Campanis offered him a lavish honeymoon if he would get married to a woman. Of course, he refused, and of course, this story is open to conjecture.

He bounced around in the major leagues, played for the Oakland Athletics, and called it a career in 1979.

Homosexuality started to come out in the open in the 1980s, and he was actually outed by Inside Sports magazine in the 1980s. With this now being public knowledge, there was no need to hide this anymore, and he played in the Gay Games, a gay-themed Olympics.

After a car accident, he was never the same person. He got into drugs, and his lifestyle caught up with him when he contracted AIDS.

I remember that one of the first stories I ever read on the Internet was about Burke and his struggles after his baseball career. If I remember correctly, his autobiography had come out, and he was clearly dying of this disease, a bitter man who was nearing the end of his life.

Maybe in anger, he claimed that he knew other baseball players who were gay, but never revealed who they were.

And for whatever reason, in later years he took credit for creating the "high five" in baseball, and supposedly, the high five is a show of solidarity in the gay community, probably without most people, including athletes, realizing that.

He ended up passing away in 1995, and probably the story would have ended there.

However, actress Jamie Lee Curtis has had an option on his life story for years, wanting to make it into a motion picture. I read yesterday that she believes that now, with the Jason Collins story out in the open, the time may be right for this film to finally move ahead.

Shame on me--and shame on mass media--for forgetting the Glenn Burke story amid all the hoopla about gay athletes.

His story is an interesting one, maybe even more interesting than the Jason Collins story, and to forget it is to create a crevice between how our society was in the 1970s to our more tolerant society that we have today.

It is a story that should not be forgotten so easily.


  1. Very interesting.
    I did not know about this.
    Thanks for the info.
    The facts you learn from your fun blog!

  2. Thanks, Sam. Maybe the only reason I distinctly remember this is that it was one of the first stories I ever read on the Internet, but the story got pushed to the back of my mind until the events of this week. Whatever your viewpoint on this subject, let's get our facts straight.



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