Editor's note: The Boston Red Sox host Pride Night at Fenway Park, Friday, June 3, 2016, against the Toronto Blue Jays.
On April 28 at EMC Club inside Fenway Park, Billy Bean, the former MLB player and the league's current Vice-President, Social Responsibility & Inclusion, spoke to the Boston Red Sox front office. Billy's presentation was powerful and moving.
The following morning it moved me to write a note coming out to Red Sox team President Sam Kennedy thanking him, Red Sox principle owner John Henry, and Red Sox owner and Chairman Tom Werner, among others, for bringing Billy in to speak with our front office:
"Sam - Thank you. Speaking as a gay man fortunate enough to be part of an organization like the Red Sox, Billy Bean's story hit home for me. Witnessing leaders like yourself, Mr. Werner, Dave Dombrowski, Tony Lovullo, Amy, Ron, Will, among others stand in solidarity with an openly gay man within MLB is something I thought I'd never see or certainly experience. As a Boston kid who happened to fall into a sports career at a later stage in life I've kept my sexuality a "poorly" kept secret for a multitude of reasons and excuses none of which make an ounce of sense anymore. Those days are over."
Years ago I read Billy's book, "Going the Other Way." At the time I was too confused to take action about who I was. If someone told me 15 years ago I would be working for the Red Sox and witness an openly gay former player speak to the front office, introduced and accepted by the team president, president of baseball operations, and current bench coach... I'd have asked them to stop drinking and promptly seek help.
I didn't pursue a career in sports for years because I didn't think someone who was gay could work in sports. I'd push people away because I wasn't comfortable in my own skin. I never straight-up lied about who I was, but I often did shift the story away from my personal life out of fear of losing my career or being overlooked for a promotion.
None of that is healthy. I am not proud of it.
During his speech Billy told the story of his interaction with Judy Shepard years ago. Judy's son Matthew had been a student at University of Wyoming and was brutally slain by two young men, all because Matthew was gay.
"Judy looked at me, this mother, a Republican from Wyoming who had never thought about LGBT rights, and said to me: ‘Billy, there are no other people to move this conversation forward. No male role models in sports. A couple of women who were brave enough in individual sports. Matthew would have thought you were a hero because you played in the major leagues.'"
Billy's speech started with a video depicting his story of playing in MLB, getting married, divorced, and a heart-wrenching spot regarding his former partner who died of AIDS in 1994 and Billy having no outlet at the time. Looking around the room I saw many colleagues had tears in their eyes.
Red Sox historian and former Boston Globe writer Gordon Edes quoted Sam Kennedy in his recent article, "When Pride steps to the plate."
"We all want to create an environment that's inclusive,'' Kennedy had said by means of introduction, "that embraces diversity, the differences among us. You cannot have a successful, productive championship organization if you don't do that. I've been here 15 years and really proud to be part of an ownership group that embraces this concept and is committed to it.''
One of the best parts, if not THE best part, of working in sports is the people I've been fortunate to work with -- talented yes, but usually of like-mind, social, sharing in a common interest to be part of something bigger than themselves. In professional sports I've learned that, like everyone else, I need to hustle, work hard, hold myself to a high level of grit... and most importantly be myself. If I can't do that, I can't make it in any endeavor, including sports.
Bean is set to tell his powerful story in a pre-game event inside the Champions Club at Fenway Park this Friday night, June 3, coinciding with Boston's annual Pride Night. There are great organizations doing amazing work out there like theSports Equality Foundation, the You Can Plan project, Outsports.com, among others who offer support and solutions for athletes, sports executives, within the LGBT community.
Thank you to my family, Billy Bean, John Henry, Tom Werner, Sam Kennedy, current and former colleagues, especially my bosses Will Droste and Ron Bumgarner, for their personal support and leadership.
I am so happy to finally, completely, be true to myself.