Story at a glance

  • Former professional athletes are working to build a supportive environment for LGBTQ+ athletes.
  • Billy Bean of the MLB and Wade Davis of the NFL came out upon retirement and now push for a more inclusive culture.
  • Despite rapid progress and positive feedback, both former players anticipate a gradual evolution in perceptions among pro athletes.

Professional sports have never been perceived as being particularly inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. In a new interview with Yahoo Finance, Major League Baseball (MLB) vice president Billy Bean talks about changing that. He understands the anxiety of coming out in a community that isn’t accepting of all sexual orientations.

A former MLB player, Bean played across four teams between 1987 and 1995 and came out about his sexuality in 1999. This makes him the second professional baseball player to come out publicly, preceded by Glenn Burke. 

Bean says that many individuals “have been afraid up until recent times and [there are] still many in the workplace that don’t want to be identified specifically based on their private life or their sexual orientation or gender identity expression because of the way that others are going to view them unfairly.” Working as the MLB’s newly minted Vice President of Social Responsibility and Inclusion, Bean’s job is “to change the narrative” and “to foster and encourage an improved culture of acceptance and respect in the workplace,” he told Yahoo Finance.  

Ultimately, this will come down to the players. Bean is incredibly cognizant of the powerful influence pro athletes wield. He emphasizes that players are “role models” whose “actions they take resonate in the outside world.” The partnership between the MLB and GLAAD, a prominent LGBTQ+ advocacy group, exemplifies the positive actions Bean supports. 

LGBTQ+ community outreach and advocacy are quickly becoming priorities for other professional sports leagues. In February, Sports Illustrated chronicled former National Football League (NFL) player Wade Davis’s activism. Once a closeted gay man playing in the NFL, he now works to welcome the queer community into football as the NFL’s LGBTQ+ consultant. 

“Part of my responsibility now is to work with organizations...and to partner with the NFL to create the conditions where we start to change the narrative that sports is [sic] a homophobic space,” he told a room of approximately 30 teenagers and young adults, Sports Illustrated noted. 

Davis also leads training seminars that highlight the importance of inclusion. Through his work, he has received feedback from players who “were honest about how they felt, and the fact that they were at different places in their understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity.” 

Despite these monumental achievements, both Bean and Davis acknowledge that the path to greater understanding is slow. Bean states that he “is not trying to change baseball” and doesn’t “want players to feel uncomfortable” or “to force them [the players] to say or do or act or be something they’re not.” Rather, he aims to get players to “be more cautious and understanding” and create a “relatable message.” 

Similarly, Davis calls for “incremental steps” to let players come forward about their sexuality on their terms without fear of being harassed or isolated. “Part of our work here is to show that the NFL is a space that is valuing and is building a network of support for people who identify as LGBTQ+.” 


Published on Dec 04, 2019