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Not Jackie Robinson: Collins Is Not First Openly Gay Athlete in Major Sports

Not Jackie Robinson: Collins Is Not First Openly Gay Athlete in Major Sports


As soon as NBA basketball player Jason Collins came out this week in an article in Sports Illustrated, he was lauded for his bravery and heroism for being the first active out male gay athlete in major professional team sports. Except that may not be an accurate description in light of a report that indicates Los Angeles Dodgers player Glenn Burke was open about his sexuality with teammates, opposing players, the media, and his front office in 1976, which means Collins’s announcement is not as groundbreaking as has been portrayed. 

Collins was falsely praised as the next Jackie Robinson, even though gays have nearly none of the systemic disadvantages blacks had when Robinson first crossed what had been the all-white lines on the baseball diamond in 1947. 

But that comparison seems to be even more inaccurate given journalist Allan Barra’s report. 

Barra wrote that the media in Burke’s era all knew Burke was gay, but they just did not report on it, which means Collins may be better described as the first openly gay active player in major American professional sports the media decided to write about and celebrate. 

Barra wrote:

Burke made no secret of his sexual orientation to the Dodgers front office, his teammates, or friends in either league. He also talked freely with sportswriters, though all of them ended up shaking their heads and telling him they couldn’t write that in their papers. Burke was so open about his sexuality that the Dodgers tried to talk him into participating in a sham marriage. (He wrote in his autobiography that the team offered him $75,000 to go along with the ruse.)

There may have been more hostility over three decades ago toward an openly gay player, but Collins has been praised universally by fellow players, former players like Charles Barkley, and nearly all members of the mainstream sports and news media. 

Further, unlike Collins, who came out toward an end of career that can be described as modest, at best, Burke came out at the beginning of his career. More may be revealed about Burke in the years ahead and after Collins’s announcement, and these revelations may make Collins’s announcement seem less groundbreaking. As Breitbart News wrote, Hollywood is also attempting to make a biopic about Burke, who is also credited with inventing the “high-five.

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