(Book Review) Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke
The LGBT movement has made great progress since the Stonewall riots of 1969. Members of this community have organized over the years to achieve both significant economic and political clout in the never-ending fight to live their lives openly without fear of discrimination. Of course there's always much more to be done and gains to be defended. One of the lagging areas that comes to mind is in professional sports, specifically baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. Despite all of the stereotypes that have been disproved over the years, there's still an overwhelming sense that gay men are not welcome in these leagues, although we know they've already played these sports in the past and are likely doing so today.
The fact that there's still so much work to be done in terms of acceptance in these sports is one of the reasons why Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke, by Andrew Maraniss, is such a vital read. Singled Out (available now) is a biography of Glenn Burke, MLB's first openly gay baseball player. Burke started Game 1 of the 1977 World Series as a rookie for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he was out of baseball before the end of 1979, largely because of the homophobia he faced from management and some of his teammates. Glenn Burke also holds the distinction of being the man to invent the High Five, which is an interesting story in and of itself. He was a talented athlete who knew what he wanted in life, and it's important that people know his legacy.
Author Maraniss does a terrific job of detailing Burke's background and hammering home what an athletically talented man he was right from childhood. Glenn Burke actually may have been better at basketball than baseball, but the Dodgers were the ones offering to pay him to play for them. In fact, his allegiances still wavered even as professional success began coming his way. Maraniss also explains how Burke was a man who others were drawn to in a wide variety of settings. Black, white, gay, straight, athlete, frat boy, average Joe, it didn't matter. People wanted to be around him. However, there was also a darker side to Burke that was likely fueled by the conflict he faced about having to cover up his search for love. That tension would eventually lead to tragic results for the baseball player.
In addition to being the story of Glenn Burke, Singled Out also offers a primer on the gay rights movement during this time for people who may not know a lot about the subject. That includes Stonewall, the introduction of disco, gay politicians like Harvey Milk, or homophobic crusaders like Anita Bryant, and of course the introduction of the AIDS pandemic. The book is aimed at readers 12-17 years old, but adults who don't know much about these topics will also appreciate the research. Whether you're a baseball fan or not, Singled Out is a recommended read.
A story of an important figure. (pic via latimes.com)
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