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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 19, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 47
New documentary details Glenn Burke's struggle as a Gay athlete
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New documentary details Glenn Burke's struggle as a Gay athlete

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

This week, a new documentary premiered about Glenn Burke, the first - and only - major league baseball player to come out as Gay during his career.

Fifteen years after his death, Out. The Glenn Burke Story premiered on November 15 at a screening in the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and was televised on CSNBA.

The one-hour film, produced by Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, is a story that is searing, sad, and powerful.

Burke, a native of Oakland who starred as a basketball and baseball player at Berkeley High, is depicted through the words of former Dodgers teammates Reggie Smith, Dusty Baker, Davey Lopes, and Rick Monday. The players express fondness for Burke's ability and talent, talk about the hostile environment that he experienced in the majors from 1976-1979, and tell how they came to learn that he was Gay. They also speak about their sadness when Dodgers management, unwilling to accept Burke's lifestyle, traded him to the Oakland A's.

Former A's players such as Rickey Henderson, Shooty Babitt, and Claudell Washington are outspoken about how Burke was mistreated, notably by then-manager Billy Martin. In one startling recollection, Washington said that on the day Martin introduced Burke to his new teammates in Oakland, he added, 'Oh, by the way, this is Glenn Burke and he's a faggot.'

Burke lasted two years and 101 games with Oakland. He had enough of the persecution and couldn't live dual lives any more. He moved to San Francisco, where he became something of a celebrity in the Gay community.

Burke's story turned tragic in the 1990s, however, when he was hit by a car, turned to drugs and alcohol, spent time in jail, wound up homeless, and ultimately contracted AIDS and died at age 42 in 1995.

The A's helped Burke through his final months, but some of the people who knew him raise the question of how Burke's life and career would have unfolded if baseball had been more supportive.

At the end of the new documentary the most powerful statistic is revealed: 'Since Glenn Burke played his final game in 1979, 6,552 players have appeared in the major leagues,' the screen reads. 'Not one has come out as Gay during his career.'

More than just a story about one baseball payer who happened to be Gay, Out. The Glenn Burke Story shows how the social stigma of Gay athletes is still difficult for many people to comprehend or accept. Telling a tale from more than 30 years ago offers a barometer about where we are now, and where we were then.

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