MLB player-turned-LGBTQ advocate discusses 'living a secret life'

Among the four major professional sports leagues, there are no active players who identify as a member of the LGBTQ community.

The issue of coming out as an active player is one that Billy Bean, a former Major League Baseball (MLB) journeyman and now the league’s vice president of social responsibility and inclusion, knows all too well.

“I was a major league baseball player for six years and left,” Bean told Yahoo Finance’s On the Move. “I was living a secret life, and the culture was just so different. And think what's exciting about this opportunity is we have a chance to change the narrative.”

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Bean played for four different Major League teams in a career that spanned from 1987 to 1995. Bean came out in 1999, becoming only the second professional baseball player after Glenn Burke to come out on a public level.

“I wasn’t a player that made a lot of money,” Bean told Yahoo Finance’s On the Move. “I always knew I was going to have to go to work. But there are so many people that have been afraid up until recent times and still many in the workplace that don’t want to be identified specifically based on their private life or their sexual orientation or gender identity expression because of the way that others are going to view them unfairly.”

Bill Bean, MLB's vice president of Social Responsibility and Inclusion, throws out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the San Francisco Giants, Friday, June 17, 2016, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Bill Bean, MLB's vice president of Social Responsibility and Inclusion, throws out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the San Francisco Giants, Friday, June 17, 2016, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

‘My job is to continue to foster and encourage an improved culture’

Bean sees sports as a great vehicle for positive change.

“Sports are a great lens into, you know, society,” Bean said. “There is some reticence to [come out] because of the way the media will sensationalize that. Jason Collins, a great, great friend of mine, was — has been the only professional athlete — he played in the NBA — to come out while he was an active player. He's been an incredible ambassador for the sports world.”

Collins became the first openly gay NBA player after coming out in 2013. He now serves as an NBA Cares ambassador, and helps incoming NBA players prepare for the professional life, including by leading a talk on inclusion.

On the MLB side, Bean now serves as the league’s first ambassador for inclusion, providing guidance and training related to efforts to support the LGBTQ community after being recruited back in 2014.

“My job is to continue to foster and encourage an improved culture of acceptance and respect in the workplace,” Bean said. “Baseball led the way. They brought me back. I didn't think that there was an opportunity there for someone who was out, even though there's only, you know, there's been two players in 150-year major league history of — that played in the major leagues that have ever come out, and that's a commentary that, I think, baseball saw.”

Billy Bean (40) of the the Los Angeles Dodgers is shown in this 1990 photo. Exact date and location are unknown. (AP Photo)
Billy Bean (40) of the the Los Angeles Dodgers is shown in this 1990 photo. Exact date and location are unknown. (AP Photo)

When Bean was hired in his new role for the MLB, he said that one of his goals was to make sure that players are aware “the actions they take resonate in the outside world.”

"I don't want to change baseball. I don't want players to feel uncomfortable," Bean said. "I don't want them to think that we're trying to force them to say or do or act or be something they're not. It's just a matter of whoever it affects, they are role models. Especially now, it's an instant world. With the way everyone's on Twitter. Just to be more cautious and understanding and maybe once they're exposed to the resources, they'll think differently."

The MLB “realized that as a sport of Jackie Robinson, we have to continue to lead that way in that conversation,” he told Yahoo Finance. “And our players have exponentially more influence than the people behind the scenes... As a former player, I have opportunities to talk to [players] all year long and try to create a relatable message. It's not about an agenda, it's about how can every player be a great ambassador for our sport.”

Bridgette Webb is a producer at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @bridgetteAwebb.

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