Glenn Lawrence Burke (November 16, 1952 – May 30, 1995) was a Major League Baseball player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics from 1976 to 1979.
Burke was the first and only Major League Baseball player known to have been out to his teammates and team owners during his professional career. He was the first to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality. He died from AIDS-related causes in 1995.
"They can't ever say now that a gay man can't play in the majors, because I'm a gay man and I made it." – Glenn Burke
Burke said "By 1978 I think everybody knew," and was "sure his teammates didn't care." Former Dodgers team captain Davey Lopes
said "No one cared about his lifestyle."
He told the New York Times that "Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have. But I wasn't changing,"
and stated in his autobiography that "prejudice just won out."
Burke left professional sports for good at age 27. Burke told People
in 1994 that his "mission as a gay ballplayer was to break a stereotype" and that he thinks "it worked"
Burke's homosexuality became public knowledge in a 1982 article published by Inside Sports
magazine. Although he remained active in amateur competition, Burke
turned to drugs to fill the void in his life when his career ended. An
addiction to cocaine
destroyed him both physically and financially. In 1987, his leg and
foot were crushed when he was hit by a car in San Francisco. After the
accident his life went into physical and financial decline. He was
arrested and jailed for drugs and for a time was homeless on the streets
of San Francisco for a number of years often congregating in the same
neighborhood that once embraced him. His final months were spent with
his sister in Oakland. He died of AIDS complications at age 42.
When news of his battle with AIDS became public knowledge in 1994, he
received the support of his former teammates and the Oakland Athletics
In interviews given while he was fighting AIDS, he expressed little in
the way of grudges, and only one big regret – that he never had the
opportunity to pursue a second professional sports career in basketball.
Burke's name was mentioned in the fifth season Crossing Jordan
episode "Thin Ice" regarding how a star professional baseball player
falsely accused of raping a woman would rather risk being smeared and
imprisoned on that charge than to be revealed as a homosexual. Referring to two star athletes in real life who were accused of rape, the character answered why:
Quentin Baker: "Do you know what a locker room's like? You know what they say about faggots? What they do to 'em?"
Jordan Cavanaugh: "What do they say about rapists?"
Baker: Mike Tyson got past it; Kobe was accused. He's still going strong; but Glenn Burke came out; and he was run out of Baseball!!"
In 1999, Major League Baseball player Billy Bean
revealed his homosexuality, only the second Major League player to do
so. Unlike Burke who made his homosexuality public while he was still an
active player, Bean revealed himself four years after his retirement in
1995, which happened to be the year Burke died.