On Wednesday, May 3, I had the pleasure of joining about 25 of my peers at MLB headquarters on New York’s Upper East Side, for a talk given by Billy Bean, MLB’s Ambassador of Inclusion.
Not the “Moneyball” guy. This Billy is notorious in his own right, and he carries a story that never fails to amaze and inspire all who hear it.
In a 1999 interview with Diane Sawyer, Billy Bean came out as gay, four years after retiring from MLB. Bean and ex-Dodger Glenn Burke are the only two players in MLB history who have ever been openly gay.
During what turned out to be a 90-minute discussion, Bean spoke briefly of the difficult period in his life where he elected to conceal his sexuality. Bean had his heart broken in 1995, when his first male partner died of a short illness. Before that, his marriage to a woman ended in divorce, when Bean realized he could not keep living a lie. By 1996, Bean mustered up the courage to come out to his parents, but even in the years to come, he worried about what it would be like to reveal himself to the world. After all, America’s attitude towards homosexuality 20 years ago is quite different than it is today. Just ask Bean. He’ll tell you. Eventually, however, Bean told the world how he felt –and he’s never looked back.
Bean kept his past story brief –he considers the work he’s doing now to be far more important. In 2014, then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig appointed Bean as MLB’s Ambassador of Inclusion. Bean works to create a more inclusive environment within America’s national pastime, so that as a result, fans can enjoy the game no matter their race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Bean was a solid player in his day, providing speed around the bases, as well as a flair for the dramatic in the outfield. He regrets not revealing his sexuality earlier, as by the time he suffered the loss of his partner, he was just beginning to make serious strides as a player. However, something tells me he’s comfortable in the life he has now. When the floor was opened for questions, Bean made sure we all knew that no part of his life was off the table.
Imagine that. Imagine just mustering up the courage to admit that you are different from other people. Bean uses this experience to educate, yes, but he also does it to inspire. He has taken his sexuality and turned it into a beautiful thing. Bean wants everyone to get in the game, no matter who they love, what they look like, or what they believe in.
Oh, and it helps that Bean is one of the nicest guys out there. He wished us all luck with our final exams, and made sure to introduce himself, personally, to each student in the room. Bean made us feel welcome, which is exactly what he’s trying to do across the country, as he aims to grow the game to new levels of following and popularity.
I attended this event for several reasons, but one key reason was that the train ticket was covered. However, I left this talk with much more than just an extra $40 in my checking account. I left with perspective, and a renewed yearning to make this crazy world just a little bit kinder. If you ever get a chance to hear Bean speak, take advantage. You might see things through a new lens, too.