Jason Collins’ decision to make his sexual orientation public in a Sports Illustrated editorial has been fodder for seemingly endless analysis this week.
That’s all still valid, but one assumption behind all the talk about progress, bravery and the origins and remnants of bigotry may be slightly off. According to The Atlantic, Collins isn’t the first athlete in a major pro sport to be openly gay. Major League Baseball player Glenn Burke was comfortably out to his teammates and friends in 1978, but back then, it was the press that wasn’t ready for a gay male athlete, Allen Barra reports.
A few months back, the Baltimore Ravens’ Brendon Ayanbadejo, an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, told USA Today that he thought the first player in the three major sports to out himself would be a baseball player: “The religious roots are a lot deeper in basketball and football. With that being said, I think baseball players are more open-minded.”
What Ayanbadejo didn’t know was that one baseball player already had. This week’s coming out by NBA player Jason Collins is momentous, but the Jackie Robinson of gay rights was Glenn Burke, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s from 1976 to 1979. He tried to change sports culture three decades ago—but back then, unlike now, sports culture wasn’t ready for a change …
He told People magazine while promoting his book in 1995, “My mission as a gay ballplayer was the breaking of a stereotype … I think it worked … They can’t ever say now that a gay man can’t play in the majors, because I’m a gay man and I made it.”
And check out Alyssa Rosenberg’s piece on Think Progress about how Collins’ coming out might get a Glenn Burke biopic into production.
Read more at The Atlantic.