Not the First — Long before Jason Collins came out, there was Glenn Burke. Allen Barra in The Atlantic tells the story of the first major league out gay baseball player.
A few months back, the Baltimore Ravens’ Brendon Ayanbadejo, an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, told USA Today that he thought the first player in the three major sports to out himself would be a baseball player: “The religious roots are a lot deeper in basketball and football. With that being said, I think baseball players are more open-minded.”
What Ayanbadejo didn’t know was that one baseball player already had. This week’s coming out by NBA player Jason Collins is momentous, but the Jackie Robinson of gay rights was Glenn Burke, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s from 1976 to 1979. He tried to change sports culture three decades ago—but back then, unlike now, sports culture wasn’t ready for a change.
Burke made no secret of his sexual orientation to the Dodgers front office, his teammates, or friends in either league. He also talked freely with sportswriters, though all of them ended up shaking their heads and telling him they couldn’t write that in their papers. Burke was so open about his sexuality that the Dodgers tried to talk him into participating in a sham marriage. (He wrote in his autobiography that the team offered him $75,000 to go along with the ruse.) He refused. In a bit of irony that would seem farcical if it wasn’t so tragic, one of the Dodgers who tried to talk Burke into getting “married,” was his manager, Tommy Lasorda, whose son Tom Jr. died from AIDS complications in 1991. To this day, Lasorda Sr. refuses to acknowledge his son’s homosexuality.
Burke, who also died of AIDS-related causes in 1995, came out to the world outside baseball in a 1982 article for Inside Sports and even followed it up shortly after with an appearance on The Today Show with Bryant Gumbel. But his story was greeted by the rest of the news media and the baseball establishment, including Burke’s former teammates and baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, with silence. Even his superb autobiography, Out at Home, which published the year he died, failed to stir open conversation about homosexuality in sports. Practically no one in the sports-writing community would acknowledge that Burke was gay or report stories that followed up on his admission.
He told People magazine while promoting his book in 1995, “My mission as a gay ballplayer was the breaking of a stereotype … I think it worked … They can’t ever say now that a gay man can’t play in the majors, because I’m a gay man and I made it.”
And yet Burke is remembered less today as a pioneer for gay rights and more as the man who, along with Dusty Baker, invented the “high five.”
The media in general and the sports media in particular found Burke’s homosexuality an inconvenient truth. He told People, “I think everyone just pretended not to hear me. It just wasn’t a story they were ready to hear.”
Eighteen years later they still haven’t heard him.
It’s His Problem — Andrew O’Hehir on President Obama’s cowardice at Gitmo.
So it is that Obama, more than four years after signing an executive order to shut down the Guantánamo prison, found himself a few days ago mumbling defensively to the White House press corps that it might be time to “re-engage with Congress” on the issue. “It is not a surprise to me that we’ve got problems in Guantánamo,” he added. Well, it freakin’ well shouldn’t be, Mr. President. From the moment Obama became a presidential candidate in 2007, he campaigned vigorously against Guantánamo as a pillar of the flawed and failed Bush-Cheney war policy. He won the election and signed that executive order in his third day on the job, and then – once it became clear that House Republicans would be delighted to use the issue to depict him as a crypto-Muslim, terrorist-coddling pantywaist – let the whole thing drop. The rest of us, I’m afraid, mostly assumed that the right guy was in office and the right thing would be done eventually, and moved on.
But decisions made in the name of political expediency have a tendency to come back and bite you in the ass. (If Machiavelli never said that, he should have.) As the Economist put it this week, the current hunger strike at Guantánamo, which began as a small dissent movement in February and now includes most of the camp’s detainees, has shamed Obama and forced America and the world to face “one of his most glaring failures.” Military officials admit that 100 of the 166 Guantánamo prisoners are now refusing food, while lawyers and activists in contact with the detainees say the real number is closer to 130. At least 23 men in the camp are reportedly being strapped into a chair twice a day and force-fed Ensure nutritional supplement — through a plastic tube passed through the nose and into the stomach – in order to keep them alive. Three to five others in more serious condition have apparently been hospitalized. (The Miami Herald has an online chart showing the progress of the strike, using the official statistics.)
How many of these detainees, who’ve decided they’d rather die than face indefinite imprisonment with no prospect of either release or trial, are dedicated al-Qaida extremists? It’s obviously a loaded question, and I suppose the real answer is that no one knows. But here’s what we do know: Of the 166 prisoners still at Guantánamo, 86 have been officially cleared for release, either to their home countries or somewhere else. In fact, many of those were designated for release years ago, under the Bush administration, and they are still locked up. There’s nothing close to an adequate explanation for that fact, but we can evidently blame a combination of bureaucratic inertia, excessive caution and the fact that almost no one gives a crap about a few dozen Arab and/or Muslim men who used to be suspected terrorists and now constitute a national embarrassment.
They Ain’t Cheap — Andy Borowitz reports on the N.R.A’s budget woes.
National Rifle Association C.E.O. Wayne LaPierre used his opening speech at the N.R.A.’s national convention today to highlight several challenges facing the organization, including what he called “the rising cost of Senators.”
“Over the past few years, we’ve seen the price of purchasing a Senator surge astronomically,” he told the N.R.A. faithful. “Unless something is done to make Senators more affordable, the ability of a tiny lobbying group to overrule the wishes of ninety per cent of the American people will be in jeopardy.”
The days are over, he said, when “you could buy a Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for little more than pocket change.”
“Now it costs thousands to purchase a marginally effective Senator like Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.),” he said.
Mr. LaPierre was followed at the podium by the former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the rock musician Ted Nugent, and several other people who would not pass background checks.
Doonesbury — Grade deflation.