Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gimme some skin, my brother

                                                  Late in the 1977 season, the Dodger's Dusty Baker hit his 30th home run of the season. When he  returned to the dugout, he was greeted by part-time outfielder Glenn Burke, who, instead of extending his right hand to shake, as was tradition, decided to turn both his hands upward. Baker then responded  by simply slapping them.  This my friends, was the first ever "high five", a gesture that is so commonplace in sports today, that no one even notices it anymore.  That it was a relatively unknown player like Burke who invented this trend is not that noteworthy.  The fact that Burke was gay, however, is...

                       Of course, back then, no one knew he was gay;  he didn't come out until  two years after his playing days were over.  During his brief career, a few players knew of his lifestyle choice, as did members of the Dodger's front office. The fans, however, remained blissfully ignorant.  Although, if Glenn's lover, sportswriter Michael J.Smith had his way, it would have been public knowledge.  Smith had pleaded with Burke to come out during the 1977 World Series against the Yankees.  Something tells me that if he had, Reggie's three home run performance in game 6 wouldn't have been the only thing people were talking about.  Glenn thought better of it and kept his secret, even when the Dodger higher ups decided to trade him the next year to Oakland ( basically for not keeping things on the "down low" ), for an older player with almost identical stats, Billy North.

                    Only one other Major League baseball player has come out since, that being journeyman  outfielder Billy Bean ( not to be confused with the current A's GM), but since then, nothing.  Only one NBA player, John Amaechi, has come out, also well after his playing days were over, and wrote a book about the experience entitled "Man in the middle".  Surprisingly, there are three NFL players who have later admitted to being gay; Esae Tualo, Roy Simmons and Dave Kopay. Although Burke is seen in hindsight as a pioneer of sorts, his life was a sad one.  After baseball, he slipped into drug addiction and eventually died of AIDS in 1995, the same year his autobiography "Out at home" was published.

               So the next time you see an athlete congratulate another with a high five, remember where it came from.  Maybe it will enlighten some of the more homophobic sports fans.  You know, the same people who don't see the irony of singing along to Queen's "We will rock you/We are the champions" every time their team wins.  Freddy Mercury's anthem of triumph has been used for years to celebrate victories in almost every sport, and Freddy couldn't have been more gay if he tried.  So, the moral here is, don't judge a, uhhhhh....don't be like....ummmm...well, don't judge, I guess.  That person next to you at work or competing against you  may be gay, but that fact won't keep him or her from achieving greatness or from being an innovator who comes up  with something that people use say  the "high five"...

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