By Connie Wardman
(From Compete Magazine – June 2013 issue)
Having found his voice as an LGBT sports diversity advocate, Billy Bean is now actively working to eliminate homophobia in sports. The former Padres hero abruptly retired from MLB as part of his coming out process but he left his heart in San Diego. In April the former outfielder returned to reclaim it. He joined the San Diego LGBT Pride’s annual Out at the Park event and Tailgate Party to throw out the first pitch at the Padres/Giants game at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.
This was the baseball town where Bean said he felt most at home – it was where he got to play the most and says it’s also where he felt like he believed in himself as a Major League baseball player. But to protect his secret of being gay, he never got involved with the thriving San Diego gay community.
In shock following the death of his partner, the reality of the cost of being closeted hit him like a ton of bricks and he retired from baseball and moved to Florida. Several years after retiring, he came out in an interview with Dianne Sawyer in 1999 and then followed it up with his book, “Going the Other Way: Lessons From a Life In and Out of Major League Baseball.”
Recently moved to West Hollywood, Bean is now selling real estate in the Beverly Hills area. Following the Out at the Park event, he wrote on his Facebook page that “I couldn’t help but wish I had been strong enough to reach out to this community when I was on the team. … I would have never quit playing for the team and city I love so much. Thank you for allowing me to share such a wonderful day with all of you.”
Now out and proud of it, he is making up for lost time. Recently part of a high-powered panel at UCLA’s Athlete Ally Week [our May 2013 issue] that was moderated by Cyd Zeigler of Outsports, Bean joined openly gay UCLA assistant softball coach Kirk Walker, Ben Cohen of the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, Brian Kitts, a co-founder of the You Can Play Project, and other former UCLA athletes to eliminate homophobia and bullying in sports at the college/university level and beyond.
On May 21st Cohen’s StandUp Foundation announced Bean as the new vice chairman of its board, noting that his focus will be “helping professional leagues and athletes at all levels commit themselves to the fairness, equality, dignity and respect that define true sportsmanship.”
Reflecting on his past as a ballplayer prior to the Out at the Park event, Bean said “I keep thinking that if there is a gay player in either one of the dugouts that night, and if they see me, how it might affect them? If I had seen a former player walk on a major league field who was openly gay while I was playing, I know that I would’ve never quit.”
In his new role with the StandUp Foundation he hopes to be that “former player” for other professional athletes who are gay and wanting support to come out. Bean says he’s not a hero – he just finally told the truth. And in telling the truth that he was gay, he was introduced to the LGBT community and the realization of how much bigger and better life can be.