Glenn Burke and Homophobia
Few may be familiar with the name Glenn Burke, but his story is one of extreme tragedy due to one small problem. Glenn Burke was a Black, gay man, playing professional baseball in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.Not only did Burke face racial tension, but the homophobia surrounding sports in our society led to the demise of his career and life.
Burke was a highly touted star in the Dodger’s minor league to and was considered to be the next Willie Mays. This hype eventually led to his opportunity to play in the MLB for the Dodgers. His time in LA was filled with difficult times though. Burke wrote that his General Manager at the time, Al Campanis, offered to pay for his honeymoon trip if Burke agreed to get married to a woman, after learning Burke was a homosexual. Not only did Burke refuse, rather, he befriended team manager Tommy Lasorda’s gay son. The unhappy Lasorda had Burke eventually traded to the Oakland Athletics. Here, Burke faced a homophobic manager, Billy Martin, who was quoted as calling him a “faggot” in front of the entire team. In addition to a knee injury before the season, the Athletics released Burke in 1979. Stating “Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have, but I wasn’t changing, prejudice won out,” Burke left professional sports for good at the age of 27.
After retiring, Burke still remained active, competing in the 1982 and 1986 Gay Games, where he won medals in the 100 and 220 meter sprints in 1982. Unfortunately, Burke turned to drugs, particularly cocaine, and became a heavy addict. Combined with fighting AIDS, Glenn Burke died at the age of 42 in 1995.
I think it Glenn Burke’s story is truly something sad. Unlike other athletes who play out their whole careers loved by the fans and coaching staff, Burke never had that opportunity. Despite his incredible skill, the homophobia surrounding professional sports eventually pushed Burke completely out of the picture, ending his career extremely short. It’s sad that such individuals can let such unimportant things, such as sexual orientation, ruin a career especially in a situation in which it shouldn’t make a difference. Overall, I think that without such prejudice in our sporting culture, Glenn Burke could have been a major superstar and potentially changed the dynamic of baseball how we know it.The only question I have is how many more great athletes have we missed out of due to homophobia in today’s professional sports?