Why MLB is ready for its first openly gay player

·MLB columnist
Why MLB is ready for its first openly gay player

There is a gay major league baseball player. The public does not know his name. I don't, either. He exists, though, and his world is so much different than one year ago.

Back then, there was actually a question of whether athletes would accept a gay player, whether fans would rebel against a man on account of his sexuality. Were we that naïve? Did we have that little faith in ourselves? After Jason Collins and Michael Sam and the latest brave man to declare his truth in public, Derrick Gordon, it all seems silly, that sports – a place of transformative cultural change where the only necessary credential is talent – would reject someone on account of something so inconsequential to his ability to play.

What a great affirmation that these fears were drowned out by not just tolerance, as if who someone loves is something to tolerate, but welcome. That the two dozen or so ballplayers to whom I've posed the question – "Would you be OK with a gay teammate?" – have given some variety of the same answer: As long as he can play.

And that is why the day for baseball is soon coming as it has for the NBA, college basketball, college football and, wherever Sam lands, the NFL. Forget the heteronormative baseball clubhouse. Never mind the predominance of players who come from traditionally homophobic Latin American countries. Ignore the campaign to snuff out anyone who brings excessive attention to himself because it goes against the sport's long-held code.

Baseball is ready, just as basketball and football were. Players say so, managers say so, executives say so. The momentum is so strong, the support so great and, best of all, the inspiration from Collins and Sam and Gordon so palpable. Divulging sexuality, it turns out, is the furthest thing from selfish; it is an incredibly selfless act, taking on the attention and questions so that not only are others in the future spared but they realize their anxieties aren't warranted.

All of the concerns about 162 showers would disappear quickly amid a truth that only the willfully ignorant would ignore: Baseball is a microcosm of society, and American society, minus those who prefer to hold sacrosanct one passage of an old book over another, recognizes that blocking a person's pathway to wholeness and happiness may be the greatest sin of all.

Inside the small circle of people whose quest to demystify sexuality in sports helped this last year turn into such a success, the question of Latin America has come up as a potential boundary. And yet the same was said about black culture in football and basketball, and look at what happened: The three highest-profile male athletes to out themselves all are black. This is not to say a Latin American player will break the boundary in baseball as much as it is to remind ourselves that fears and assumptions often die in the face of evolution.

As for the sport itself, and how it judges itself internally, one would hope the revelation of sexuality isn't seen as something to draw attention. What once seemed like an unburdening now has turned into a cause, the sort behind which anyone could stand. Collins inspired Sam and Gordon, and each of them will inspire more, and baseball players everywhere will look at the first out major leaguer and feel a sense of understanding, of pride, of confidence that whatever problems he encounters, someone who has gone through the same sorts of things made it to the apex.

There is great power in that, and no sport – no culture – can deny its inevitability.

Baseball is America's game, and it remains more reflective of modern-day America among its players than any sport. Its diversity is one of its great hallmarks. Such progressiveness would seem to translate rather easily. Glenn Burke, after all, was out to his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates for years, and that was almost 40 years ago.

His life wasn't easy. He spent six months in a clubhouse that resembled then the same testosterone den it does today. Late last season, before a Sunday day game, a veteran rolled into a road clubhouse about an hour before the game. He was wearing the same clothes from the previous night. About half a dozen teammates gave him a rousing ovation, invited him to a table and asked him to provide details on the woman with whom he'd spent the night.

Of course, this isn't unique to baseball. This is sports. And this is why if Collins and Sam and Gordon can thrive in such environments, a baseball player can, and will, do the same.

Whoever that is the public still does not know. I don't, either. When he does meet the world, though, it will be a wonderful moment for him, for those now unafraid because of his pioneering ways and for a sport that's more than ready.

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