As we recently observed, organized baseball’s only currently out gay player, David Denson, has received nothing but positivity and support from the Brewers organization, his teammates and his coaches. Likewise the league, via its hiring of Billy Bean as Ambassador for Inclusion and then elevating him and his diversity efforts to the level of Vice President, has taken the inclusion and acceptance of LGBT persons in the game seriously. Just last week Major League Baseball held its annual Diversity Business Summit in Phoenix. The sport is making efforts to be as inclusive as possible.
But official acts are not the same as personal views. And the personal views harbored by any given player, coach or executive in the game might be very different than what they say when asked about matters relating to LGBT persons, minorities, women or any other historically marginalized group. Like the old saying goes, it’s what we say and do when we think no one is looking that defines our character. Or when we think no one is listening.
The listening part hit Tyler Dunnington hard in the past couple of years. As Outsports reports today, Dunnington, a former minor leaguer in the Cardinals organization, is gay. During his college career and in his one year in the minors he was in the closet, however, and was thus privy to some truly awful homophobic comments and conversations from teammates and even coaches during that time. They were bad enough that they caused him to quit baseball, as he realized how hostile the people who were supposed to have his back were to people like him. It’s a must-read story.
The takeaway here, I think, is that hostile attitudes do not change simply because official policy changes or because formal efforts at outreach and inclusion are undertaken. As such, it’s not enough to simply make those official efforts and then forget about it. To truly make baseball an inclusive world, ongoing efforts at education are required. Efforts to help people who may not ever have cause to examine their attitudes to examine them.
I don’t believe that, had Dunnington’s coaches and teammates known he was gay, they would’ve said such awful things in his presence. But that’s a function of people just knowing better, for the most part, than to say things that might get them in trouble. True acceptance and inclusion takes more than that bare minimum. It takes time and education and empathy. Given how easily people seem to “get it” once they get to know people different from them as opposed to considering issues of diversity in the abstract, it especially takes hiring people of different backgrounds, or different races to work the day-to-day jobs in the game. The work is not done simply because some memos and press releases have been circulated.