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Homophobia has lingered in baseball since the days of Glenn Burke in the 1970s


Over the weekend, five members of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team opted out of wearing special jerseys and caps in honor of Pride night at the ballpark. The five players peeled off the rainbow-colored patch and elected to wear the standard hat. This came one night after the LA Dodgers honored the memory of Glenn Burke at the team's LGBTQ+ Pride night in Los Angeles. Burke was the first major leaguer to have come out as publicly gay back in the 1980s. We wanted Andrew Maraniss to weigh in on this. He's the author of "Singled Out: The True Story Of Glenn Burke." Hi, Andrew.

ANDREW MARANISS: Hi, Sacha - good to be with you.

PFEIFFER: It's good to have you. Andrew, when you heard that these Tampa Bay Ray players had refused to participate in Pride night or at least wear the logo, what went through your mind?

MARANISS: Well, I was disappointed but not surprised. Elements of baseball have had a long history of homophobia. But I was incredibly disappointed because there are other aspects of baseball that have been improving in this regard since Glenn Burke came along in the 1970s and was run out of the game because of his sexuality.

And you've seen teams like the Dodgers who honored Glenn at their Pride night as you mentioned, the Oakland A's who honored Glenn Burke last year and the Rays organization, you know, attempting to do something different by wearing these special caps. You've seen baseball trying to improve and these players holding the game back in certain respects. And there's a reason why these Pride nights exist. And it's because of the homophobia that's existed in baseball and has existed in larger society. And by refusing to go along with it, these players only really validated why these events are so important.

PFEIFFER: I want to give credit where credit is due. And I think it's important to note that the Tampa Bay Rays as a team have supported LGBTQ issues in the past in many ways. They raised money for victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. They even signed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court supporting same-sex marriage. But these five players not participating in the Pride night commemoration drew a lot of attention. Would you talk a little more about what you think those five men not participating - how that reflects on the team even though the team as a whole has tried to be very supportive?

MARANISS: Right. It's interesting that, right now, when you hear the name Tampa Bay Rays and this issue of Pride night or LGBT rights, you associate a negative connotation when most of the players wore the caps. It shows that, even when an organization might want to send a certain message, that there's a lot of people to bring along with you. And it's certainly indicative of polarization in the country on these issues. In some ways, you can say that there's incredible support for LGBT people broad-based, you know, across the country.

And yet you look at legislation there in Florida or here in Tennessee, where I live, where it was, you know, deemed a slate of hate even to go so far as don't say gay bill in Florida. Me as an author writing a book about a gay ballplayer, Glenn Burke, have seen the chilling effect on teachers and librarians because of this legislation where schools are reluctant to bring me in to tell the story of the first gay Major League Baseball player. It's a really interesting issue in that regard.

PFEIFFER: I'm wondering if you've kept in touch with the Glenn Burke's family. And if you have, do you know what they thought of the LA Dodgers honoring him?

MARANISS: I have. I texted Glenn's sister Lutha the day before the family was to be honored in Los Angeles. This is what they hoped would happen for decades. It's something that they knew Glenn would be excited about also. You know, for the fans in Dodger Stadium to cheer his name the way they had back in the 1970s, it's really a nice full-circle moment I know the family was happy to be a part of.

PFEIFFER: That's author Andrew Maraniss. Andrew, thank you.

MARANISS: Thank you so much, Sacha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.