Billy Bean

Major League Baseball’s Ambassador for Inclusion and author of Going the Other Way

Preface to the 2014 Edition

In 2004, shortly after my book tour for the original edition of this book, I sent a long, heartfelt letter to Bud Selig, Major League Baseball’s commissioner, detailing what I believed must happen to pave the way for the first player to feel comfortable enough to come out while competing at the highest level of the game.

It was a cause dear to my heart. After all, I’d had to make a terrible choice between my love of the game (and livelihood) and the chance for a life that was truthful, honest, and open. I’d ultimately followed my heart, and quit the game to settle down with my partner in Miami Beach. It was an excruciating decision no one should ever have to make. It was a choice made under duress, and it has haunted me ever since.

I received a polite, thoughtful response to my letter, but to this day baseball players, from little league to the big leagues, are almost as closeted as ever. Fans still shout antigay epithets from the stands, and closeted players still keep their lives hidden from teammates, a kind of dangerous double life that absolutely keeps them from playing their best. Even football and basketball, stereotypically more homophobic sports, have successfully integrated their first two openly gay players, Michael Sam and Jason Collins.

Collins, my good friend and twelve-year NBA veteran, came out on the cover of Sports Illustrated last year. It took longer than it should have, but on February 23, 2014, in his very first game since his announcement, I witnessed history from the stands at Staples Center in Los Angeles, when the Brooklyn Nets played the LA Clippers. For years, I had predicted that I would find a way to be at whatever event the moment it took place, and it actually happened.

I was so proud of Jason. It was as if my own brother was playing.

And for the first time in my baseball lifetime, there is hope for baseball, too. The Supreme Court struck down bans on gay marriage, reflecting a major cultural shift in acceptance that had been underway for some time. And players are feeling freer to express themselves at the college level, where a handful of baseball players have come out publicly over the last year. Athletes, from all levels, have reached out for advice, shared their struggles, and vented about the unfairness of it all.

At the Third Annual Nike LGBT Sports Coalition Summit this year in Portland, I met four amazing young men who played college baseball, out and proud. They were full of optimism, asking lots of questions about life in the majors. They are taking advantage of resources created by many amazing people in the LGBT community, and it was wonderful to meet young athletes with healthy coming out stories instead of tragic ones (something that was much more common, not so long ago).

Most important, it seems MLB is itself ready to create a level playing field. I’ve always thought that coming out as a pro athlete is less a matter of the bravery of individuals and more a commitment from the game to make the process as smooth as possible, a process that does not penalize the player’s ability to compete. This year, a few weeks before the all-star game, I received a call from MLB’s Paul Mifsud. He told me that he felt this phone call was about thirteen years late, which caught me off guard. He asked if I would consider coming to New York City to have a conversation with a few of the people who help run major league baseball. I agreed, though I didn’t know of their intentions. A week later I headed to the commissioner’s office; we sat down in the Bowie Kuhn Conference Room and talked for four hours. I returned home, and a week later I was asked whether I was interested in becoming the very first MLB Ambassador for Inclusion.

Many things have changed since the first edition of this book was published in 2003. In 2004, at the young age of 37, my sister, Colette, was killed in an accident. My family and I will never heal entirely from her loss. I had my heart broken with the end of a fourteen-year relationship in 2010, and I had to say goodbye to my sweet dog Paco, who lived to 17. I left Miami Beach, where I’d lived since retiring from baseball, and returned to Los Angeles, my hometown, to be closer to my family. I’m obsessed with tennis and my daily CrossFit workouts. I often go to Dodgers Stadium, where I once roamed the outfield, and where I recently threw out the ceremonial first pitch alongside Jason Collins (mine was a strike). And now, I travel around the country representing MLB, building relationships with each big-league club, bringing the powerful message of equity and fairness.

The irony of all this is not lost. The game that forced me out brought me back to make sure what happened to me never happens to another player. It’s a bittersweet development, to be sure, after I’d sacrificed so much. But it’s also an opportunity even bigger than a superstar’s contract. It’s a chance to make this great game better than ever, and to help others like me in the process.

from Going the Other Way