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MLB to recognize Glenn Burke as gay pioneer

Baseball body reportedly aims to beef up efforts to combat homophobia

As it bids to strengthen efforts to combat homophobia, Major League Baseball (MLB) will recognize the late Glenn Burke — hailed as the first baseball player to be out while still active in the game — as a gay pioneer in the sport.

Burke will be honoured at the All-Star Game July 15, nearly 20 years after he died of AIDS-related causes. His sister, Lutha Burke — who remembers that her brother used to go to bed in his baseball uniform — and her daughter will be in attendance at the Tuesday night game, The Globe and Mail notes.

In a May 2013 piece in The Atlantic, Allen Barra writes that Burke, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics in the late 1970s, “made no secret of his sexual orientation” to friends, teammates and management and even spoke openly to the sportwriters of the day about his sexuality. According to Barra, the scribes balked at including such information in their stories.

Burke did not come out to the public outside baseball until 1982, several years after his career ended.

Hudson Taylor, the head of Athlete Ally, an organization established to tackle homophobia and transphobia in sport, told The Guardian that the arena of sports is still “in an era of firsts” when it comes to out pro athletes, pointing, as examples, to the National Basketball Association’s Jason Collins and the National Football League’s Michael Sam, who could become the first active, out gay player if he makes the final cut for the St Louis Rams this fall. Professional soccer player Robbie Rogers, who now plays for the LA Galaxy, came out in 2013.

The MLB is also set to announce that former player Billy Bean, who came out in 1999, will work with the league to beef up its LGBT-inclusion efforts.