Minor Leaguer Makes Baseball History as First Openly Gay Player
Professional athletes who are gay often feel compelled to hide their sexuality for fear that it could damage their career. But for baseball player David Denson, keeping a part of his identity a secret left him depressed—and it was starting to take a toll on his batting average.
That’s why Denson, 20, a first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers’ rookie affiliate in Helena, Montana, decided to come out, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. That makes him the first active gay player in Major League Baseball history. (Sean Conroy became the first gay active professional baseball player when he came out in June, but he plays for an independent league that is not associated with MLB.)
“It started to affect my game because I was so caught up in trying to hide it,” Denson told the Journal Sentinel. “There was that stereotype stuck in my head that there would never be a gay player on a team.”
Denson wasn’t alone in thinking that way. In a 2015 international study, only 1 percent of respondents believed that sports were completely accepting of LGBT players. More than half of the gay men in the study reported that they felt unwelcome in sports, and 84 percent of all participants noted that homophobic jokes were a regular occurrence.
A gay slur in the locker room was the final straw for Denson. “Be careful what you say,” Denson told his teammate before coming out to the entire team.
But those very players ended up being a major support system for Denson.
“Talking with my teammates, they gave me the confidence I needed, coming out to them,” said Denson. “They said, ‘You’re still our teammate. You’re still our brother. We kind of had an idea, but your sexuality has nothing to do with your ability. You’re still a ballplayer at the end of the day. We don’t treat you any different. We’ve got your back.’ ”
For Denson to live freely, he needed to tell more people than just his teammates. He worked with former MLB player Billy Bean—who serves as the league’s inclusion ambassador—to make his announcement public. Bean came out after he retired and has cited hiding his sexuality as his reason for leaving the game in 1995.
Denson joins the likes of Jason Collins, the first openly gay active player in the NBA, and Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL and the Canadian Football League. Collins received a standing ovation when he took the court for the first time after he came out. On the other hand, Sam was cut from the St. Louis Rams before he played a regular season game, leading sports experts to question whether it was Sam’s skill or his sexuality that kept him off the field.
Denson knows his sexuality could affect whether he makes it to a major league team, but he isn’t going to let that stop him.
“I think what I do on the field will matter more than my sexuality,” he said. “I’m going to go out and do the best I can do, and hopefully make it one day.”