Sunday, November 16, 2008

Glenn Burke

Glenn Burke born 16 November 1952 (d. 1995)

Glenn Lawrence Burke (Oakland, California) was a Major League Baseball player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics from 1976 to 1979. Burke was the first Major League Baseball player to be out to his team-mates and team owners during his professional career.

Burke was named Northern California's High School Basketball Player of the Year in 1970, and could run the 100 yard dash in 9.7 seconds. He was considered capable of being a professional basketball player, which was his first choice, but his first offer came from Major League Baseball.

He is recognised as the player who invented the high five. In 1977 he ran out onto the field to congratulate his Los Angeles Dodgers team-mate Dusty Baker for hitting a home run in the last game of the regular season. His celebration has since been imitated by athletes and fans in virtually every sport around the world. The second recorded 'high five' came moments later when Baker returned the favour in celebration of Burke's first major league home run.

Burke's association with the Dodgers was a difficult one. According to his autobiography Out at Home, the Los Angeles Dodgers offered to pay for a lavish honeymoon if Burke agreed to get married. Burke refused to participate in the sham. He also angered Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda by befriending the manager's estranged gay son, Tommy Lasorda, Jr. The Dodgers eventually dealt Burke to the Oakland A's.

Faced with mounting difficulties, Burke eventually quit baseball. He stated in his autobiography that 'prejudice just won out'. He returned for spring training with Oakland in 1980. Billy Martin, the newly hired manager of the Athletics made public statements about not wanting a gay man in his clubhouse. When Burke injured his knee before the season began, the A's sent him to the minors in Utah. Burke then left professional sports for good at age 27.

Burke continued his athletic endeavours after retiring from baseball. He competed in the 1986 Gay Games in basketball, and won medals in the 100 and 220 metre sprints in the first Gay Games in 1982.

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. 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 team-mates and the Oakland Athletics organisation. 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.

Since Burke's disclosure of his homosexuality, only one other major-league baseball player, Billy Bean, has come out; and, like Burke, he waited until after his retirement to do so.

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