Bill Gubrud, the founder and now executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame, was floored when he heard people — in 2012 — wonder why no mainstream sports figures had come out.
Of course they have! He didn’t scream, though. He acted.
“It’s short-term memory. If it hasn’t happened in the last few years, it hasn’t happened,” Gubrud told the SFGN. “I think people really need to know the history of the athletes and what they’ve gone through.”
What the hell is Gubrud talking about, you may be thinking. Jason Collin (an inductee of the hall) was the first major professional sports figure to come out, right? Wrong.
The first inductee that the board of directors at the hall of fame discussed was Glenn Burke, who played Major League Baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics from — wait for it — 1976 to 1979. That’s over three decades ago. According to the hall of fame, Burke was the first and only MLB player that came out to his teammates and team owners during his career. Not after, not when it was safe, not when he retired, but during. Along with fellow ballplayer, Dusty Baker, the two are also credited with inventing the high-five, according to Gubrud.
“This all started long before Jason Collins came out,” Gubrud said.
Gubrud grew up in a family of six. His oldest brother, and his little sister, were gay — “three out of six, that’s half” Gubrud muses — and the family was supportive. “I was one of the lucky ones,” he told the Mirror.
But coming out in 1998 meant he lost many friends along the way. Having always been a huge Cubs fan and moving to Chicago to work for the Chicago Free Press, he was beside himself when the team he loved, took out ads at the paper he worked for, a gay newspaper. That made the Cubs the first professional sports team to advertise in a gay newspaper. With 2,000 tickets during its first ever Gay Day (in 2001), the Cubs were a natural fit for an inductee to the hall of fame.
Gubrud said the hall of fame has three main objectives:
1. To preserve history of LGBT people in the sporting world - sadly something no one else does, he said.
2. To educate school districts around the country.
3. To honor amateur athletes (or professional).
On top of the website that runs the hall of fame, an educational program is in the works. The idea is for the people running it to travel the country, showcase inductees (who may even show up), and present the LGBT history of sports.
“We want to make sure there’s a right attitude. Pre-Jackie Robinson, if you were an African-American youth, you had no one to look up to that was African-American in mainstream sports,” Gubrud said. “Likewise, if you’re LGBT today, you want someone to identify with.”
To see a full list of the inductees thus far, go to GayAndLesbianSports.com/#inductees.
“It doesn’t matter what sport it is, whether it’s considered macho or femme — the bigotry is there,” Gubrud said. “A lot of people I’ve talked to don’t even know who Greg Louganis was. It’s so important to me that people know the historical aspect of it.”
For more information, go to GayAndLesbianSports.com.
Ben Cohen - English activist and former England rugby union international player.
Andrew Goldstein - First American male team-sport professional athlete (lacrosse) to be openly gay during playing career.
Orlando Cruz - First boxer to come out as gay.
Dr. Tom Wadell - Founder of the Gay Games in 1982.
LZ Granderson - Journalist and commentator for CNN and ESPN.
Billie Jean King – Former world number one professional tennis player.
Jason Collins – FirstNBA player to come out
Greg Louganis - Openly gay American Olympic diver who won gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games.
Martina Navratilova - A tennis legend; she has won 59 Grand Slam crowns and a record 9 Wimbledon singles champions.
Chuck Dima - Godfather of gay softball.
Jerry Pritikin - Known as the “Bleacher Preacher,” became famous during his days as a regular in the Wrigley Field bleachers during the 1980s.
Renee Richards - An American ophthalmologist, author and former professional tennis player.
Christina Kahrl - ESPN editor and writer, cofounder of the Baseball Prospectus.
Glenn Burke - Major League Baseball player in the 70s; was first and only MLB player known to have been out to teammates and team owners during his career.