Major League Baseball has hired openly gay former ballplayer Billy Bean as their new Ambassador For Inclusion. Bean's job will be to assure all MLB stakeholders of an inclusive and equitable workplace and provide awareness and educational resources that help mandate the league's workplace code of conduct. Bean will focus not just on sexual orientation, but also intersections of race, gender and other issues of diversity.
A major focus of Bean's work with the League will be to help end homophobia in the locker rooms, front offices, on the fields and in the stands. Bean will visit all 30 MLB teams within the next year and talk with players, coaches and front-office executives about steps they can take to end homophobia in their ball clubs. He will also be tasked with building partnerships and developing a complete program that will make baseball a model for LGBT inclusion.
Important LGBT sports moment: Billy Bean comes out
Billy Bean's coming out was our #7 most important moment in our ranking of the 100 most important moments in LGBT sports history from 2011.
"It's ironic that I am returning to baseball to help erase the same reason I left," Bean told Outsports in an exclusive interview. Bean left baseball in 1995 shortly after his then-partner passed away. Bean skipped his partner's funeral to play in a game for the Padres, lest someone discover he was gay.
"I was a young man, so confused and hurting inside trying to juggle a life of deception, and play in the major leagues while in the closet. The greatest mistake of my life was my own inability to believe or trust that I could reach out to someone and ask for some help. It was a different time, and for many of us, it wasn't easy. However, the hard work of so many brave people that came before me and during the past decade is paying dividends. Now we have arrived at this important moment."
Previously, Bean was named vice-chairman of the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation. He was inducted into the Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame last week.
Bean first got a call from the Office of the Commissioner last month as he was headed to the Nike LGBT Sports Summit. Days later, Bean was in New York City for meetings with Major League Baseball. When they asked him to return to baseball and work with the League, he jumped at the chance.
This is a big, bold step for Major League Baseball. The League has previously included gay people in an anti-discrimination policy and created a workplace code of conduct that prohibits anti-LGBT language and actions. MLB has also worked with GLSEN and GLAAD to build understanding of LGBT issues. The NFL has also brought in an openly gay former player - Wade Davis - to help with their LGBT training and outreach.
Bean told Outsports he is committed to making Major League Baseball a model for inclusion.
"Our work is just beginning. I want this generation's coming out stories to be uplifting, happy, and inspire others to be who they are, and fulfill their true potential. At the end of the day, it's all about giving everyone the best chance to succeed, to play free of burden. I want every player and all stakeholders of MLB to know that I will be a trusted friend, whether it is for educational purposes, or simply someone who will listen if they need to talk."
While the sports world has transformed on LGBT issues over the last decade, Bean has his work cut out for him. Other pro-sports leagues are largely confined to a few dozen teams mostly in major media markets, but Major League Baseball's minor-league system extends the League's reach further than all of the other major pro-sports leagues combined. All told there are a couple hundred teams affiliated with Major League Baseball through the minor-league system across the United States and Mexico. These teams reach into smaller, more traditionally conservative communities like Billings, Mont., and Huntsville, Ala.
With that reach comes both challenges and an incredible opportunity. MLB has the resources to reach thousands of athletes in baseball plus their corresponding communities. Bean has already told Outsports he wants to leverage all of the members of the LGBT Sports Coalition to reach as broadly as possible as quickly as Major League Baseball will allow.
"I understand the responsibility of this job. I am very proud to represent Major League Baseball, and I will carry myself just as I did when I was a player. I have tremendous respect for the game and its history. Moving forward, I will make it my mission that no other athlete ever has to make that same mistake I made in silence again. They will know that they are embraced as a member of the MLB family, and there are resources for them, they just need to utilize them or reach out."
When asked about the meaning of his new position with Major League Baseball, Bean spoke from the heart. Twenty years after quitting baseball because he felt a gay man didn't fit in there, Bean said that having someone in his new position while he was a player with the San Diego Padres would have meant a longer career for himself.
"It would have allowed me to believe that I did belong in the majors. It would have meant I could achieve my full potential as a player. It would have allowed me to feel pride for realizing my childhood dream, instead of a never ending disappointment of what I threw away. I would have never quit.
"My baseball talent got me to the big leagues, my inner struggle is what got in the way. Those days are over."
You can find Billy Bean on Twitter @billybeanball.