MLB to Honor 1st Openly Gay Player

Major League Baseball will finally honor Glenn Burke, the first player to come out of the closet as a gay man, at Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Burke retired in 1980 after suffering from a pinched nerve, but also due to the strain of being a gay man in professional sports. When he began his professional career in 1976 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Burke was considered the next Willie Mays. Though Burke was popular with his teammates and was even credited with inventing the high-five, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics when the Dodgers’ front office became increasingly aware he was gay. Things weren’t better with the Athletics. Manager Billy Martin attacked Burke with homosexual slurs in front of his teammates. “I probably wouldn’t have left if there hadn’t been the other problem, the gay thing. But put it all together, and it was too much,” Burke told Inside Sports in 1982. After a car accident in 1987, Burke fell into a cycle of drugs, homelessness, and crime, and he served 16 months in prison. In 1994, his sister, Lutha Burke, found him on the streets of San Francisco. He was diagnosed with AIDS and died shortly thereafter. “Maybe he didn’t get a chance to live out his dream,” Lutha said. “But make sure that other little boys get a chance to live out their dream. Glenn would be very proud. Something good has come out of it in the end.”