Episode 52: Billy Bean, VP of Social Responsibility and Inclusion and Special Assistant to the Commissioner, Major League Baseball
Billy Bean played Major League Baseball from 1987 to 1995 as an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Diego Padres. During this time, Billy was living life as a closeted gay man. In this episode, Billy shares his story that is well documented in his memoir, Going the Other Way, and discusses his role as Major League Baseball’s first Ambassador for Inclusion. Bean is now the Vice President of Social Responsibility and Inclusion and Special Assistant to the Commissioner.
Billy Bean Bio
Billy Bean serves at MLB as Vice-President & Special Assistant to the Commissioner. As a senior advisor to Commissioner Manfred, his role focuses on baseball’s education, LGBTQ inclusion, and social justice initiatives. Among his responsibilities, Bean works with MLB’s 30 clubs to bring awareness to all players, coaches, managers, umpires, employees, and stakeholders throughout baseball to ensure an equitable, inclusive, and supportive workplace for everyone.
On July 14, 2014, Bean was announced as Major League Baseball’s first-ever Ambassador for Inclusion. He played in the Major Leagues from 1987-1995. Bean broke into the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers, and tied a major-league record with four hits in his first game. He went on to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. Bean was a two-time “All-America” outfielder at Loyola Marymount University before graduating with a degree in Business Administration. During the 1986 season Bean led the Lions to a midseason #1 national ranking and a berth into the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Billy is a member of the MLB Owner’s D, E & I Committee, was instrumental in the development of MLB’s bullying prevention education programming, and MLB’s ‘Ahead in the Count’ minor league education program. He is the author of the book, “Going the Other Way,” and one of the most sought after keynote speakers in professional sports.
Intro Voices 00:00
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Karen Ortman 00:01
Hi everyone, this is You Matter, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety. Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Public Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Billy Bean. Billy Bean played Major League Baseball from 1987 to 1995. As an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. During this time, Billy was living life as a closeted gay man. Billy is here to share his story that is well documented in his intimate memoir, Going the Other Way, as well as to inspire athletes everywhere as Major League Baseball's first ambassador for inclusion. Billy is currently the Vice President of Social Responsibility and Inclusion, and Special Assistant to the Commissioner. Billy, welcome to You Matter.
Billy Bean 01:06
Thank you, Karen for the invitation. I appreciate sharing a little time together today. I look forward to our conversation.
Karen Ortman 01:12
Yeah, me too. Tell me about your childhood.
Billy Bean 01:19
Okay. I guess it all started with my mom. My mom was a very, very young 17 when she got pregnant with me and had me as a teenager, and my father and her had made a go of it, they grew up on the same street, went to school together and got married. And, this was in Santa Ana, California, way back in the day. Unfortunately, religion sort of got in the way of my dad's vision of what a family should be, at least in my opinion. He left to go on a Mormon mission and never returned. I was just a few months old. I grew up with a single mom, who's amazing, and thankfully healthy and alive and a big part of my life. I was an only child until probably about five years old and my mom remarried. My stepfather, they are still married today. I went from an only child to the oldest of six...
Karen Ortman 02:37
Billy Bean 02:37
...very, very quickly. My mom married a man with three children so, we were sort of a modern day, or a prior day, Brady Bunch type of collection family, you know, we just were all thrown together. For me, I think because I did not have a really strong male influence growing up, I was drawn to my teachers, I was drawn to outdoor activities, you know, recess, kickball, whatever. And somehow, without any nudging from my family with no sports interest anywhere, well mom's mother was divorced and my mom has three sisters so I grew up all around women, sports kind of found me and I found a calling there, or at least a place where I felt connected. I was like living in that minute without any vision of any plan. I didn't play Little League until I was I think eight or nine. I didn't even know what baseball was... ...until I saw a neighbor, living in a apartment complex that me and my mom were living in, wearing a little league baseball uniform and I just thought that was the greatest thing I've ever seen in my life. I just couldn't wait to find out what that was all about. So I followed him to play baseball, and I didn't know if my mom would let me sign up, but she did. It was, I think it was $15 and that was a big part of the conversation and the idea, could we afford it?
Karen Ortman 04:22
This was in like the 70s?
Billy Bean 04:26
It would have been 1973, I think. And, you know, it's just a different universe now with how much kids know. We were naive and living in the bubble of whatever our parents were able to expose to us and I basically found sports. I grew up in an in a way that, when I look back now, even with all of the obstacles and difficulties of my biological father not being a part of my life, my mom was very conservative, and then she married an extremely conservative religious man who was in the Marine Corps. That really shaped my personality. I am, where I come from. I don't know how many of us in the 70s or 80s knew about social issues, or we just knew what was in front of us and so my life was simple. It was it was safe. I have fond memories of competing in football, basketball, baseball and track every single day growing up.
Karen Ortman 05:41
Let me go back to two when you're younger, and you're introduced to sports. When did you realize how exceptional you were?
Billy Bean 05:53
I think it's interesting because baseball I was really good at right away. Baseball is a hard sport, is different than being physical and fast like soccer or football. I was a tiny kid but I could catch the ball, I could throw it, and I was always the fastest kid. Even in school, I remember being the fastest kid running in every race, I wanted to win. And, and so I didn't really understand until it took a while in the games. You start to see the parents responding to you pitching or batting third or fourth, and feeling a sense of accomplishment through their validation. It started to give me some self esteem. I had a really funny last name, Billy Bean, and I hated it growing up. I didn't have a father to back that name up and I got bullied about that. I had to find a way to be, you know, popular and navigate around that, as all kids do. I believe every kid is bullied in one way or another and are challenged by that or, at least until, you know, hopefully, someday we can move around it but it seems to have only grown. Sports, you know, my little league coaches, and the dialogue when you're practicing about, let's get Billy up to the play. It just felt like I whole world opened up and I really made my world about nothing but sports.
Karen Ortman 07:32
Yeah. At this point, so are we talking middle school high school or even younger?
Billy Bean 07:40
I don't think I realized that baseball was going to be, I mean I have to say, the most impactful sports experience of my life, until I made it to the Major Leagues, was being the quarterback of my high school football team. I actually still talk to my high school football coach, a gentleman named Tom Nice from Santa Ana, California. He was such an influence to me and I felt, I think the most pressure, because the kids from school go to the games we played in what look like an amazing stadium to me, it was probably, very, very modest, but baseball was mostly played with nobody in the stands. You're just playing out there with nine kids on each side. But the attention, I love basketball for that reason. But I think it became apparent to me, that based on how I was around each of those teams, that I was a pretty good baseball hitter. It just seemed really easy to me and my expectations were very high. So about 14 or 15 I really started to think, you know, this is who I am, a baseball player. Kind of defining myself by that.
Karen Ortman 08:57
At what point, if ever, in your youth, did you question sexual orientation?
Billy Bean 09:07
It's a great question, and it's something that I've been asked so many times over the years. I've thought about it so often and I did not have a reference to what gay or homosexuality meant as a kid. My parents never talked about anything like that. I heard the word faggot. I heard the word queer. I heard it, but I did not associate it with sexual connection to the same sex, I just thought it was a cuss word. So in my naivete, I guess, I just assumed that,I was never confrontational and I think a part of that is because I was, in my subconscious, I've always been gay. I was gay since birth, and I just knew that there was something different about me but I couldn't quite put my finger on it until I think it was 13 years old and it was the first time I saw something. I was in the state free throw Basketball Championship age group that my middle school coach made us all sign up for and I won like five tournaments in a row. Somehow, I found myself providing airline flight for my mother, she had never flown on an airplane, we went from Orange County to San Francisco, for the state finals. We stayed in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, I'll never forget it, it was the most exciting thing. I was only 12 years or 13 years old, and I remember us driving down a big busy street in San Francisco. It looks so different compared to Santa Ana. I saw two men, and this had to be 1977 max or 76, two men sitting on a park bench and they were kissing each other when we were at a stoplight. I just looked at it and I could not believe what I was seeing, like, it just was like, wait, that...?
Karen Ortman 11:17
How did you feel?
Billy Bean 11:17
I didn't say anything to my parents. I didn't. But I recall it and I just I guess I just sort of put it away in the back of my mind. I think of it often, where I just was so sheltered in the life. My stepfather had become a uniformed police officer, my mom was actually a uniformed police officer for a while...
Karen Ortman 11:46
Billy Bean 11:49
...until, a and women could not be in a relationship in the same police department in the 70s so my mom quit. Another example of a woman conceding for a man in those biased and sexist days. For me, because of the sports environment, it became apparent to me that if I did really well in school, then someday I might be able to, get out of Santa Ana and go to college. Nobody had ever gone to college in my family. And so all of these things kept me a really focused...
Karen Ortman 12:30
So you were thinking that, when you were in San Francisco, and you saw the two men...
Billy Bean 12:36
...on not the future, but I'm just saying the continuation of a sheltered life. We didn't have internet, there was no encyclopedia to look at...
Karen Ortman 12:45
So it was like the catalyst that sort of got your mind going...
Billy Bean 12:51
...and so the recognition of like, wow, I wonder if I'll ever see that again? So I associated, ironically, San Francisco with being gay even though I had no idea of the history of that city. It was just a more progressive environment. But do you recall how you felt when you saw the two men kissing? If anything? Yeah, I felt like...
Karen Ortman 13:17
Intrigued? Was that a positive thing?
Billy Bean 13:18
Intrigued is a great word because, I was too young. I'd never had sex with any, myself even, at that age.
Karen Ortman 13:23
Yeah. Got it.
Billy Bean 13:28
So, I didn't have a cognitive connection to sexual orientation but the thought that to people, two men would be embracing and loving each other was something. And, I had a really fractured viewpoint of relationships between men and women, because everyone had been divorced. I'd grown up and it was still somewhat relatively new, my mom, I think she married my stepdad when I was eight or nine, they're still married to this day, so all that change. It's funny how that memory resonates me, but I had to sort of store it for the future.
Karen Ortman 14:08
Yeah. Let's go back to when you were playing high school sports, even junior high and Little League, whatever the case might be, and you're in a locker room with your peers. Do you recall any locker room conversation that was derogatory, or even just the mention of homosexuality, gay relationships? And, if so, how did you feel when you heard this? Yes! A whore? A slut? Yes, right.
Billy Bean 14:41
Okay, so culturally for boys, I would say 40% of conversations are accusations that you're a faggot with somebody in some kind of negative sort of plastic type of way. Feminizing men to each other is the go to in conversation. I think it would almost be equal to, from my life experience which is limited in this space, obviously, but when women would accuse each other women of being sexually active, you know what I mean? Like that guys would be a you're a faggot. So there's that same kind of thing, like, you just break someone down to the lowest of the low, no basis for it. So, 100% of my growing up, especially in sports, and one of the things that was really hard for me was that I, I went through puberty kind of late. I think it helped me in the long run, but I was in awe of guys that were more masculine than me, I could hang tough out on the field, but I felt self conscious in a way, and I think, every young boy does when they're sort of late to that process. There was all different kinds of stimulus that we're starting to come into my mindset. But the one thing, Karen, that always pulled me away from any of those thoughts, was that when I was all county and football, I was very popular. I always had a girlfriend from like, the age of 14. I loved my girlfriend's and I think I have very profound relationships with women to this day because I'm a good communicator. and I love them. I don't think I knew I was supposed to want to have sex with them and oftentimes, did as a youngster, but it wasn't a driving force. It was more about you, you're a good kid, you're a handsome young kid, you're good at sports, etc. And then, when I was in high school, it all started to come together. I was extremely popular, I was valedictorian of my high school,
Karen Ortman 17:11
I was about to get to that.
Billy Bean 17:11
I was on the road to success. I would get ragged on probably more from the guys for being a goody two shoes, and all that kind of stuff. It wasn't truly until getting to college - I had a college experience where we had an athletic trainer that everyone knew was closeted, that person would never have admitted that they were gay, but that moved the conversation up like a notch because, you're in a trainer's room, it's an intimate environment, this was the early 80s, middle 80s, but again, nationally, the only references to gay, anything really started until '85, '86 when HIV was actually acknowledged and Rock Hudson died, when ElizabethTaylor stood next to him.
Karen Ortman 17:28
Billy Bean 18:12
Yeah, you know, it was a demonized secret, dark, , stereotyped type of situation for, my community. And, thank God for Larry Kramer and the people gave their life, you know, for HIV medication before it even had a name. The process was deadly. There was a lot of trial and error, and it killed a lot of young males who were trying to kill a virus that they didn't know very much about. And with that trajectory and my age, there's a lot of parallels to a lack of information and a lack of exposure to, so I think that's a lot of the reason why I was very late in understanding my true self.
Karen Ortman 19:11
So in high school, you had mentioned, you were the valedictorian. Clearly you excelled athletically and academically during this time, prior to deciding on a college to attend. Did anybody question your sexuality, your peers or family members?
Billy Bean 19:36
I don't think I was ever accused of being gay or called a faggot for any reason other than maybe an altercation of some kind that was just silly. So the answer to me is, no. This is why I have such great empathy and I've always been a fighter for the people in my community that don't have that choice because of their gender expression, gender identity, there's just an energy and assumption that goes with the beauty of differences. Some people, much like, maybe we'll talk about later in the interview, you know were a great influence in my life, Matthew Shepard, someone like that, did not have the ability to conceal and was was bullied for that. I realized that while I've gone through some very, very difficult times, I don't have the scars that a lot of my community does. When they were very young sometimes it's inflicted by their parents because of religion; and it makes me, for the days that my job is difficult when I feel like I'm still the only out gay person walking into a room with a bunch of very successful alpha males, I try to call on that, and say, I'm doing it for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Karen Ortman 21:09
And you're talking about speaking to professional athletes?
Billy Bean 21:14
Yeah, just advancing equality in many ways. I've been in rooms in DC and Capitol Hill for fundraisers. I've been bashed for years on social media, as you know, it's the core of everything wrong with baseball, they say leave it alone, it's great the way it is - from the voices of people who've never been subjected to systemic racism, or sexism or bias. It's easy for them to say keep it the way it is. Sometimes you have to challenge yourself and that's to where I try to go back to.
Karen Ortman 21:51
Let's talk about college. We talked about your K through 12 experience; exceptional athlete, exceptional student, valedictorian, and still a closeted gay person. But, when thinking about college and making a choice, at this point, did you know that you were gay?
Billy Bean 22:21
No, I definitely did not. I think, again, this is, for some of the students listening to this show, it's hard to fathom, but for my generation there are many, many people my age; men, women, gender non-specific that became alpha successful, or experts in concealing what was the center of their existence in order to succeed and to be all the other parts of what they are, a doctor, a lawyer, a radio host, a professor, a parent, you know. And, this is the difficulty, when I first came out there were so many people that wanted to share and most of it was just regret that they could never be themselves. It's important to think about the people that came before me and during my generation, that never put their profession in front of their sexual orientation; they didn't have that opportunity or they didn't want to lose their family, or they didn't want to move away to a city where they could dissolve into anonymity. These are what a lot of us had to do because you just reach a tipping point. So, going to college, because my family had never really been successful outside of their own value system of staying home and being a loving family, my parents really encouraged me to go to a really good school that was smaller. I got offers to go to UCLA and USC, it's Southern Ca. My dream was to go to Stanford, and they did not even respond to that.
Karen Ortman 24:23
Billy Bean 24:25
It was a devastating reality.
Karen Ortman 24:27
Well, their loss.
Billy Bean 24:28
Yes, I always try to think about it, and actually had some fun conversations with former players in their head coach at that time..a long, long time ago, but that's the nature of sports. My experience at Loyola Marymount, the choice, my dad actually had a boss with influence, a lawyer, my stepdad, his name is William Bezworth I think thay was absolutely the influence that he wanted me to go to that school. Plus, they offered me an amazing, wonderful full-ride scholarship. It was far away but it wasn't too far and they promised me that I would play, I think I played every single game my entire four years there. I wanted to graduate. Again, moving up to Los Angeles, a big city, bigger than Santa Ana., exposure to a lot of kids who were raised in parochial Catholic schools, well to do, it's different, you know, the way that schools pursued a diverse student body. In those daysit was about can you afford to go there or not? I felt like the people that were students there were all rich kids. I was just this kid from Santa Ana, but again, being the best player on that baseball team brought me great validation. And, school, I was good at it, I really tried hard. I still had no design on, would I'd be a professional player, yet. It wasn't until about halfway through that I started to realize the scouts were watching me; professional scouts. It's interesting because I do write in my book about my first experience and it happened during college on a road trip. I think there's a lot of people that can identify, it was a person that was treating me for athletic thing, like postgame, in a school that we were playing. It was a an intriguing kind of thing that happened pretty quickly, but I did not stop what was happening and I was being touched. There were a lot of people in the room...
Karen Ortman 27:02
And this was by a man? Yes. Okay. And that's the first experience that your talking about.
Billy Bean 27:05
This is where my life changed, and I had did not anticipate it. I didn't know the person's name. I didn't know. You know, athletes are naked around people all the time in sports and I was not naked, it was a postgame situation. It was the most scintillating, intriguing, fascinating thing that just I had no preparation for. I was in a very serious relationship with well, who would be my future wife at the time, qho was obviously not there. Yeah. But that became the beginning of the Billy Bean division of secrecy.
Karen Ortman 27:57
Yeah. Did you share with your girlfriend, your future wife at the time, what happened? No, no, I pretended it did not happen, and I was certain that it would never happen again, but again, I think for those who have lived a similar experience there is a moment where you can try as hard as you want to be what you think everyone else wants you to be, but there are moments of truth that are elusive, that happen, and... Moments of clarity, if you will?
Billy Bean 28:38
Yeah. It was frightening. If you think about it, at that time in the mid 80s, there was zero positive reference to, I mean, forget an athlete on the way hopefully to a professional career, but for anyone to be gay. People were dying every single day, there was nothing but news of visions of Act Up and The Gay Men's Health crisis screaming at our government to acknowledge those who are dying of HIV. I had no connection to that, to those images. I say that with terrible guilt or regret, because I didn't think that HIV would ever intersect with my life, and ironically, it did, but at that time I was naive and I did not care. I only cared about getting two hits in every baseball game and what teams wanted to talk to me. It was a selfish. I think for all athletes, or anyone who's driven to succeed; you narrow, your life becomes narrow. If you're an ice skater or swimmer, you're in the pool, you're in the rink. You don't think think about what's going on in the world, you think about what you got to do. And there was no intention, it wasn't by design, it's just the way it was.
Karen Ortman 30:08
You made reference to how AIDS affected your life, and we'll get to that shortly, but in the meantime; you're in college, you graduate in 1986 you're with your...
Billy Bean 30:25
Karen Ortman 30:26
Well, yeah. Were you married during college, or after college?
Billy Bean 30:30
Karen Ortman 30:30
Billy Bean 30:31
I met her in college and I would go away to play baseball, she was three years younger than me, and so that relationship, much like almost every athlete, professional athlete, it was spend, some intense moments together and 80% of your time apart.
Karen Ortman 30:47
Yeah. Okay. So you graduate in '86, and you are drafted by the Detroit Tigers in '87...
Billy Bean 30:56
Karen Ortman 30:57
Oh, it was '86? Okay.
Billy Bean 30:59
Yeah. So tell us about that. We had an amazing baseball team at Loyola that was ranked number one in the country. When I got there it was not that good, then myself and three other teammates from that team, me leading the way probably, reached the major leagues. Ultimately, it took a while, but we got a lot of recognition. We went to college World Series. I was a high draft pick by the Tigers, as you said, and then, you know, it's a collision of things happening all at the same time, the college season ends, then the pro season is already in the middle, and you start negotiations. I had been drafted by the New York Yankees the year before, and talked out of signing by my coach to come back and build this amazing team, which may have been in my coach's best interest and not my own, but it worked. It all worked out. I have zero regrets. I have great admiration for my former head baseball coach Dave Snow who made MLU amazing. Immediately, there's the negotiation for my pro contract, then I get shipped off to - I signed a contract - the northeast, to Glens Falls, New York. My my ex wife, who was my girlfriend, is going to college still and in Los Angeles. For the next two or three years I was playing baseball like 11 months a year. I would come home for a week or three or four days at a time and see her, but I got called up to the Major Leagues in 1987, eight games into the season or something. It just, it turned our world upside down. It's interesting, because that excitement really put my personal, I guess, curiosity, completely on hold for a while. There was just too much going on in my life that was too big. The big leagues at 21/22 years old, is completely overwhelming. It was just was baseball 247. It was through the time that I was in the Major Leagues that I started to see more and more images, even once a month or something, of LGBTQ people. And maybe, they were always there, but I never noticed them. Then, going to New York City, going to Chicago, San Francisco again, Atlanta...
Karen Ortman 32:57
So is this, you know, at the point in time, you already had that experience with the athletic person?
Billy Bean 34:07
Right. It's intriguing that, you know, most guys would eat a bullet before they would admit something like that. I was carrying that around, and I don't want to say it was a violation, but it impacted me. Yeah. It created a lot of questions and, I think, the suppression of my sexual orientation. It was a glimpse of - wait a minute - and then I started an internal struggle; that it's not real, it's nothing, I have the most amazing girlfriend, everyone thinks I should marry her, I love her, she's, you know, blah blah blah. Like, I'm a Big Leaguer? What are you fucking doing? Right? What? Stop thinking...! It's like, I would imagine, I don't want to correlate to something negative, but it's as if you know you shouldn't be drinking when you have a great job, or you're a doctor, or you're a pilot or something - you know what I mean? Like you have a sickness or an addiction or a truth. It was internal, there was no destination, there wasn't mental wellness conversations then. It was you're on your own. I think about the plight of women, that they've been subjected to and inability to even ask a question about something that might not seem un-toward the perfection of marrying some knucklehead guy who is four years older and ready for you to start having babies right away. You know what I mean, what women were subjected to in the 40s and 50s? It was just a different time.
Karen Ortman 35:56
I'm curious. You have all of this dialogue happening? You're a professional baseball player, you have a girlfriend who is going to be your wife, I believe in 1989 you you get married?
Billy Bean 36:21
Yep. So I had still not had a sexual experience at that time except for the one in college. And that wasn't even an experience, that wasn't a mutual thing, that was just a, a thing. So my career started to get bumpy and I got sent to the minor leagues a few times. A lot of it, I think, I wasn't sure if I should have gotten married. There was a lot of soul searching with no answers. And then I had one specific event in my life where I was in a minor league town, got really drunk and decided to investigate whatever I was thinking. I found myself in a gay bar, you know, it just, it felt so dangerous and seedy. And, and...
Karen Ortman 37:31
And you're thinking no one will ever know. Let me check this out.
Billy Bean 37:34
Exactly. Exactly. I thought, I just need to check this out and then I'll never do it again. And then I had that experience, which I wrote about and expand on a lot in the book and for the next year or two, I just tried to erase these moments where I would say I would never do something again, and then I would go out and investigate. It was it was G rated but it was it was information and each time I did that, I think, I was pushing my wife a little farther away, even though we weren't together. She was in college still then, she was going to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise in Los Angeles, and I was playing in either Detroit, or Toledo, or Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then back to LA. I was on a shuttle up and down. We were never together. She was 20 years old. I was like 24. It was crazy, you know, we were just so young.
Karen Ortman 38:44
So tell me about your wedding day. When do you look back to that, you know, it's monumental event in anybody's life. Do you look back with fondness or sadness?
Billy Bean 39:03
Well, it was the most amazing day but, I think I love baseball more than the thought of being married, so my first thing in the big leagues is still bigger. I had 300 people at a wedding. My my ex-wife's family was incredibly generous and successful and I had 20 big leaguers at the wedding. We got married at Loyola on the bluff in this beautiful setting, I had just come back from playing winter ball in Venezuela for the wedding. I wasn't even part of the planning. It was just too big. My family had never seen anything like this, the amount of money that was spent. I think it was because it was two young people, one in the majors and a perfectly beautiful young woman with everything in front of her. It was a big celebration and everything. Everyone was so happy for us. And I think there was a part of me that, at that time, thought again, I had only that one incident that had ever happened. I just thought, I'm a major league baseball player, I need to get married, we need to start having kids. I'm going to play golf with my buddies, and you know, she's gonna have all the wives be her best friends. You know, all her friends were baseball player...
Karen Ortman 40:28
Wives or girlfriend?
Billy Bean 40:29
Significant others, wives or girlfriends of baseball players. And, you know...?
Karen Ortman 40:36
It was a fantasy right here,
Billy Bean 40:38
...there's joy there, Karen. But there's, if I could take one thing away, I wish I would not have gotten married because I love my ex wife, so much still, and we still we are good friends but it took a long time for her to understand that I did not go into it with that intention. I think I was riding the wave of what I thought I should do. You can't control someone dying, you can't control...I could have controlled that situation and I wasn't strong enough to do it. I think a lot of women when, I do talk about my story, just presumed that I'm just a bad person and that I used her, but I would have rather died than walked into a marriage with the presumption that I'm going to use it as a beard or a cloak over a secret because I didn't have a secret to keep. I think mistakes on top of other mistakes. Her family was devastated when we started to separate. My family did not understand what was going on.
Karen Ortman 41:54
How many years later was that?
Billy Bean 41:56
We were together from '85 to '93 as a couple. We got married in 89. I separated from her physically a week after I met my partner, Sam. I literally said, I have to get out and I have to do a pause because I did not want to put her in jeopardy, which I never did. I lived my whole life worrying about what everyone else would think. And every decision was about being the best player on the team or being a big leaguer? You know, does everybody got tickets?
Karen Ortman 42:40
How did your parents respond to your exit from your marriage?
Billy Bean 42:47
My parents were so used to me succeeding and being successful, that they were afraid to step in and ask real questions. That has been a devastating journey to repair ever since then. My ex-wife's family were livid with me and devastated that I could not give a rational explanation for why would not try harder in such a short amount of time, but I could not, I chose not to tell them that I was already in love with someone that I just met. I don't even know if I just never knew what love was until then. My ex-wife has remained in my life for 30 years. She has moved on, she's successful, healthy, she has a great son. It was a real relationship and there is no doubt it was painful to repair and I'm not making excuses for any of the things that happened. I've written and talked endlessly about devastating mistakes I made to try to please the universe, trying to please everybody instead of believing that I deserve to find my truth. I thought everything on the outside had to look a certain way and those are very, very difficult things to get through. So, the wedding, a quick answer but a long journey to it, was a wonderful moment for a life experience, but it's amazing when things don't finish the way they start, and how it looks. You look back, and for those that were upset with my decision to leave the marriage, it just sort of was erased.
Karen Ortman 44:55
Tell me about Sam.
Billy Bean 44:59
So, I met Sam while my ex-wife and I were visiting her parents for the holidays, in a health club. I mean, that's how ironic it is, I never would have met him if we had not flown across the country to stay with my in-laws. I just I think, at that time, I was 25 years old, I was a grown man. I had never had an experience that was mutually supportive. I would say, I'd had a few random things that I don't even want to remember probably, and he just was someone that captivated me. I did not know where it would go. The truth is, by separation from my wife, I felt like I just needed to investigate what this was, what was going on with this guy. I was literally blown away by and I pursued the relationship. I knew I couldn't do both at the same time. I couldn't tell anybody so the double life started. Sam was a person who spoke six languages, was raised in Austria, Paris, lived in New York City, taught me all about the world. He didn't know or care about sports, there was just a mutual connection that was powerful. I jumped in feet first, I guess like someone without all the information or resources or tools, and ultimately, I got hurt. There was no negative intention, except for just two people to try to be together. For me to try to do that while I'm playing, now for the San Diego Padres was just like running through a minefield trying to dodge moments where my family wanted to see me or come to the house, or I would make up a lie.
Karen Ortman 47:31
So nobody ever knew of your relationship with Sam while it was happening.
Billy Bean 47:37
No, no. I got a little brazen about two and a half years in and I had a member's Super Bowl party in 1994, where I invited a lot of people to my house, and my whole family. And threw a big party and I invited Sam. I told everyone that Sam was just a buddy that I've met in business, there were other people there that were single, and he got a chance to see my family. So that's their reference backwards, and whenever I want to say my my buddy died, and I can't barely hold it together, a lot of questions start to surface.
Karen Ortman 48:36
Where were you living at the time when you had your party?
Billy Bean 48:40
I was living in Del Mar, California. I picked a place 20 miles north of San Diego because I didn't want my teammates knocking on the door. Right? When we grew up, if you're playing the big leagues, most guys live in the same complex and everybody's just hanging out the whole time.
Karen Ortman 49:00
And you were with the Padres?
Billy Bean 49:02
Karen Ortman 49:06
You loved Sam?
Billy Bean 49:10
Oh, yeah. No, I mean, it was, it was an incredible affair. I literally thought I would spend the rest of my life with him.
Karen Ortman 49:21
Did he go to your games?
Billy Bean 49:24
He went to, I wrote about this, he went to one game in San Diego. He was very, very friendly and very engaging and he sat in the player section, I mean, the family section. He ended up chatting up and getting to know the family of a teammate of mine named Phil Clark, who made a comment about it the next day like yeah, my parents think your buddy Sam's the greatest guy ever, and I almost had a heart attack. I'm like, I'm sure nothing was discussed that wasn't about baseball and perfectly normal, but I was like, oh my gosh, he can't go to a game any more. We I made a rule that, he had to listen to it on the radio, and it was just safer for him not to go.
Karen Ortman 50:18
How did he feel about that?
Billy Bean 50:21
I think it was devastating emotionally and personally, but he knew the reason. What's so interesting is, the one game he went to, I had a home run, which didn't happen all the time, and he saw that, he was so excited by it. He felt like my good luck charm, you know what I mean? I think that was just a sign of whatever weight I had on my back, you know, worrying what people might think about me. Again, this is 1993, ' 94, '95, still different time. He was a great sport, he knew that I loved him as much as I could, for what my life experience had provided me. He was much wiser than me. He used to say things like, someday you'll know, and I think he realized that, for him to love me the way that he wanted to, he had to give me that space. He wasn't demanding, he didn't cause stress. He saw me on the phone with my ex-wife for hours and hours and hours, crying, trying to exit the relationship with some compassion. He could have easily said, you know this is bullshit, I'm out of here, you need to fucking figure yourself out. He wasn't that way with me.
Karen Ortman 51:51
What did you mean, when you said, or what did Sam mean, when he said to you, someday or one day, you'll know.
Billy Bean 52:01
It's someday, I didn't finish, he said that you'll understand how much I love you. And, I think, that looking back there was a wisdom. He wasn't a US citizen, I mean he was a US citizen, but he wasn't from the United States. He had a very old world sensibility about him. That was the first moment that I thought, looking back, remembering him saying things like that, that he knew that he might not be around forever. That opened up a whole can of worms, you know, when it came to his diagnosis with HIV, which was just like a train wreck derailment, that we were not prep -. I was just starting to establish myself with the Padres as a big league player, I was playing a lot. I was a part of a team. I felt so good about my career. I'd struggled with the Dodgers and the Tigers. I always played great in the minors, I'd get back up in the big leagues, and then my, whatever demons I had about myself, and being gay and not belonging, and if someone ever found, you know, all these internal conversations that were not helping me at all. It's like he got quiet and then all of a sudden, he just started falling apart. His health was right in front, it was like a matter of months, losing weight, his hair was falling out, like, you know, weird, weird things. And again, my naivete that I wasn't a part of the gay community, I just had this guy named Sam who lived with me, I wasn't subjected to the dangers of HIV because I wasn't out. I was in a monogamous relationship. I thought that meant safe sex.
Karen Ortman 54:09
How long did he live beyond diagnosis?
Billy Bean 54:15
I would say less than two months.
Karen Ortman 54:17
Billy Bean 54:18
We waited a long - I think he did not want to go find out, and that's why, I think a part of him may have known and the medication that was given to him at that time, I think killed him. I honestly do. It was so strong, AZT is what I think it was called. It is what they were giving people with HIV at that time.
Karen Ortman 54:47
He was living with you. How long? How long was he living with you?
Billy Bean 54:51
We lived together, I think, three years.
Karen Ortman 54:55
And your teammates had no idea? Nope. And what would happen when they showed up at your house?
Billy Bean 55:02
That only happened one time and it was an awful experience. I had some buddies on the team, I had a really great game, they thought I was single and divorced and they thought we should celebrate. They showed up with a bunch of beer and Sam and I were at home. Somehow they made it to my front door, I lived in a gated community. I made him go, I lived in a multi level condo with the view of the ocean, and he went downstairs and sat in his car in the garage. He was down there for probably three hours until they left.
Karen Ortman 55:48
How did you feel about that?
Billy Bean 55:50
I was dying. I was dying that he would come upstairs. I was dying that he was downstairs not coming upstairs, and I was dying that my friends were gonna find out that I was gay right now. It was like a ticking time bomb. I just wanted it to go away. I think my energy, the guys were lik, wow, I guess we're putting out a little bit here. I wasn't trying to get them to leave, I was playing the game. This is the destructive nature of the closet. MLB network made a documentary about my playing time and life. When I returned to baseball, a couple of comments from the players that it wasn't until my story came out, even though I didn't talk to them about it, that my behavior started to make sense to them because I went from a guy who was completely open and easy, and then all of a sudden got really closed off. That's what lies do. You got to hide things, and it was self destructive. I look back sometimes and I think, I can't even remember that my last season, I don't even know how I played because I was just trying to hide a secret. I wasn't trying to be a big league baseball player, I threw my career away. It was really something that, personally, is hard for me to just accept because you only get one chance at this luck. That was a time where I could have used some help. I came to learn that I did have some friendships with some teammates that would have stuck by me and might have changed my life and it might have change the course of me maybe, coming out as a player, It could have changed a lot of things. You know, when people ask me that question, were you out? I was living in shame, I was hiding secrets, my family didn't know, I was just,,,
Karen Ortman 58:02
Billy Bean 58:04
Yeah, just getting by. So, Sam passes away and it happens to be his funeral was a day you had a game. Yeah, both times. I came home from a game and Sam had been, his health was failing. I still didn't think, he was so young, I didn't think something permanent would happen and rushed him to the emergency room. He made it through the night but the morning that he died, he went into cardiac arrest and they tried to revive him with the defibrillator and he didn't come through. I had a game that day, I had a one o'clock game. It was 7am in the morning and I went home, dropped off, took a shower, and went straight to the ballpark. And then, his funeral, I made only one call and that was to his family, his sister. They made funeral arrangements and she said we expect you to be there. They knew that Sam loved me and that he was being well taken care of and it was a very, for the most part, a healthy relationship. He was not out to all of his family either. But, instead of going to a funeral, I'm like, I can't go to a funeral, I have a game. I'm on the San Diego Padres. I have a job. I had already decided that I had no value outside of that uniform and again, you talk to peopleand the way they value their relationships, and they look at me with horror when they hear that; how disrespectful, how self hating. I look back and it just felt like the only choice I could have made. To bury a partner without your your parents even knowing who they are, it's dark time, it was definitely a dark time.
Karen Ortman 1:00:28
How painful was it for you to go play a game the day of his funeral?
Billy Bean 1:00:36
Yeah, I just found a way to sit in the car. I remember being very, very emotional. Honestly, at that time, I think I was still just as concerned about being ousted. And how I would never like, I was in such shock at the time. I didn't put in perspective, the thought like, Billy, what are you doing? Like, the club will perhaps understand, you don't have to, I just thought, I don't have an excuse to come up with and I'm not good enough to miss a game. You know, all of those things where your value...? I was a struggling big leaguer in and out of AAA for years. I put myself in that category, I could have probably had a much better career if I just would have been able to have self acceptance. That's a tough one, Karen, that scar again, that's right on there, you know, that isn't going to change. I can't say a penance or run a marathon and erase it. It's just, it's stuck to me.
Karen Ortman 1:01:55
So you were 31 when Sam died. At some point, after Sam's death, you decide that you are going to leave baseball?
Billy Bean 1:02:11
Yeah, I didn't put that to words, I think the structure of the season and having to have a game every day, baseball is relentless in schedule. We were just herded like cattle a lot of the time, just being on time and showing up, your body gets so used to competing, but when the season ended, I think the structure and having to pull it together, you know, get dressed, shave, show up, be somewhere, put on a suit or a uniform, do your wind sprints, It's a busy life. And, the minute that stopped - most players only take two to three weeks off before they start ramping it up again, I I think I started to fall apart. The reality of all the things that I had just put myself through, and experienced, and the grief of Sam's passing, and the guilt - there was a part where I was told that I would be HIV positive and I dealt with that, I had not seen a different doctor to alleviate that. It wasn't thankfully my friend in Miami that took me to an actual HIV specialist. Carrying around that I thought, I was going to be HIV positive, which, I could have easily been.
Karen Ortman 1:03:43
But you weren't?
Billy Bean 1:03:44
Weren't and wasn't and to this day, I'm not, by the grace of whatever created us. That was so much to carry. I went to visit a friend for a birthday and I decided I'm going to stay there, it was far away. This is where the the decision kind of made itself, I couldn't will myself to go back to play. My family thought I was crazy. I did not want to discuss my sexual orientation with them. I didn't want to talk about what I had been through.
Karen Ortman 1:04:24
And they didn't know at this point, even now, the family still didn't know?
Billy Bean 1:04:29
They didn't know for another like year and a half. That was another really, really difficult chapter where the realization that I didn't trust their love enough to not be rejected. I wanted to be the son that they that I had always been and I brought a lot of joy and attention to my family and during my athletic career, and I just thought it would all be erased if I was gay, and that was because of my interpretation, or my view of gay people, I think, not theirs. I needed to get out there and meet some people?
Karen Ortman 1:05:23
So after Sam's death, you decide not to go back to baseball, did that change?
Billy Bean 1:05:33
Well, the Miam Beach community saved me for sure. There was a freedom there, there were guys and gals that loved each other, same sex relationships that were positive, it was all new to me. I went through a little grieving process of missing baseball, I didn't have an identity. I certainly had no plan for a career or a job. I was a college graduate, and I was smart and I spoke Spanish. I was in a very Latin environment, which was very intriguing to me, because I'd played winter ball four or five times, and I loved my experience down there. I felt like I had found a second home of some kind. And then, after a little time, I met somebody that helped me sort of get to know people. I got a dog. I think I stopped living a lie in the immediate energy space of my life. I was still closeted with my family, but I started to grow up a little bit. At that time, I still didn't think baseball would ever intersect with the real me, so, I had to accept that chapter was closing, or that I had closed it.
Karen Ortman 1:07:07
What did your agent say?
Billy Bean 1:07:10
I think he just thought that I was a frustrated baseball player. I can't believe that I didn't have a strong enough relationship, after having an agent for 10 years, to tell them. I see the the type of relationships that players have with their agents now, and it's almost deeper than family, you know what I mean? I've spoken with many agents who know a lot about their players and protect that privacy and it made me sad that he didn't fight harder for me. I don't blame anybody. I made all of my decisions, I have to live with them. I think that that's why the the process, the life experience that I went through when I was in Miami - I stayed there, I never lived in my house that Sam and I lived in again, I just sold it, which was a terrible financial decision -but Miami Beach became my home, I stayed there for 15 years, and I met so many amazing people in the LGBTQ community that helped me grow up and accept myself and discover that I could have an impact on this world in a positive way, not just think of myself as a failure. That was a little bit of a long and winding road. I remember being so afraid that I didn't have any body. I was afraid if anybody found out all of the information I lived through, you know, the things about lying to my family, or not going to Sam's funeral, that people would just think the worst of me. I think that the most important moment of my life, outside of that time period once I was in Miami, was an accidental visit, by design, of the Human Rights Campaign. I was introduced to Matthew Shepherds, mother, Judy Shepard, The HRC really wanted me to there, there were so few role models in sports. Somehow, after three and a half years of me being out of baseball, my story became public. It was not my choice.
Karen Ortman 1:09:58
Did your family know this point?
Billy Bean 1:10:00
My family knew, they had known about a year before this.
Karen Ortman 1:10:06
Can we talk about that before we move on to the Human Rights Commission? How did that go? How did that sort of unravel for you?
Billy Bean 1:10:15
I had been in Miami, I think, for two years. I would come home for the holidays to see my parents and my mom, I had always been very close with my mom. For about six or seven years, I had kind of clammed up and was hiding a lot because we're both very emotional people. My mom forged the moment where I came out to her, she just said, I want to go for a drive with you right now. I was being a little evasive, I had come back to see everybody for the holidays in December and my mom wanted to go get a cup of coffee at a coffee shop. She just started crying and saying, I want you to tell me what is going on in your life. I just kept saying, Mom, I'm fine, but I don't think you would understand, I don't know, if there's anything to talk about. And she came out and said it. She said, I want you to tell me if you're gay or not. I was like...
Karen Ortman 1:11:27
So she knew.
Billy Bean 1:11:28
Yeah, and looking back, it's hilarious that I would presume that nobody could connect the dots, especially the way I reacted when Sam passed away. I was very emotional about somebody they barely knew. I did a disservice to them, my family, it just piled on with all the bad choices. That was a huge, huge relief. There was a sense of relief but then the whys started. Why couldn't you touch base or tell us? I just said, you just don't understand. I think it was because I had such a bad image of what it was to be gay at that time. It's why images, role models, and mentorship, is so important for our young community; for people to feel empowered to be their best self, and to see that it's okay to be you. I never got that met. I was a big league centerfielder and I still thought I was the lowest of the low because I had no one in the community that I looked up to...
Karen Ortman 1:12:46
Telling you what it was.
Billy Bean 1:12:47
...yeah, it's just common knowledge. Coming back to my family, that was big, and it was uncomfortable. I have four brothers and the experience of those conversations were not as easy as I thought, you know, understanding where each of them lie in that conversation; again, this was 1998. My sister, who is deceased, sadly, she was she was the best. She told me she has two kids. She said the funniest thing that at the Super Bowl party that I invited everybody to, the one time everybody met Sam, my niece Leah was five years old at the time, my sister told me that on the drive home, she said, when can we go back and visit uncle Billy and Aunt Sam?
Karen Ortman 1:13:59
Billy Bean 1:14:02
She said they looked at each other - and they're like, no? It was like the innocence of a child may have seen me talk to Sam in a way or something.
Karen Ortman 1:14:18
That's sweet. So, the Human Rights Commission...
Billy Bean 1:14:24
Karen Ortman 1:14:25
I'm sorry, the Human Rights Campaign reached out to you.
Billy Bean 1:14:31
Karen Ortman 1:14:36
What prompted that?
Billy Bean 1:14:38
Well, the Human Rights Campaign is one of the largest civil rights organizations for LGBT people, easily, in the countr, but also the world, they been around since 1983. They are entrenched in DC and they are 100% about advancing equality for everyone, but primarily LGBTQ focused. I didn't know who they were either at that time, and when my story came out, it was ironically, again, three, three and a half years after my big league career ended. I was opening a restaurant in Miami Beach. The writer was a woman named Lydia Martin who was part of the LGBTQ community. I was dating the guy that I was opening the restaurant with at the time, or with him, not officially. That was the impetus of me coming out, she's like, the world needs and would love to know more about you. I didn't think anybody would care. The long story short of it, I was on the front page of the New York Times Sunday edition about two weeks later, and in my uniform. It was brought to my attention that the LGBTQ community had very few male role models. We had stolen from the amazing generosity of Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King for two decades, as you know, they were the world class, number one tennis players in the world. The civil rights dialogue was not as organized as it could have as it could have been. Again, role models, images of people that could inspire others, this was HRC's intention. They were very adamant about wanting to speak to me and I was very, very adamant about not wanting anyone to know, or not wanting to embarrass myself in front of my own community, which I felt would certainly happen. Elizabeth Birch was very, very generous with me, and understanding that many of us in our community, at our age and time, had a winding road at times. I finally decided to said yes, and she said, if you just come to DC, I'd love for you to meet a couple of people and if you decide that it's not for you, Billy, I'll understand. I ended up going up to DC, and that is when Judy Shepard and I were sat at a table at a luncheon, by design, with the seating arrangement. Matthew Shepard had been murdered just a year before, and it was a global story. For your listeners who don't know who Matthew Shepard is, I would really encourage you to Google him and learn his story,
Karen Ortman 1:17:53
As well as the Laramie project. Exactly, which is the story of his...
Billy Bean 1:17:59
He was beaten to death, and died of multiple head injuries, by two kids that grew up in the same city as him. He was beaten up for being gay. It was interesting, in the short, conversation that Judy and I had that day, she said something like Matthew would have been so excited to meet a hero like you. It was just the hardest thing someone could have said, it was really emotional for me to see her in person and know that in depth that the story behind in Matthew suffering, and Matthew being a victim for nothing other than having the courage to be his best self. It made me realize the courage that it took for him to walk up and down the halls of his high school as an openly gay kid in the middle 90s. The choices that I made, the lies and the hiding and the fear, it was more than humbling what she said, I felt really badly about myself. I told her, I'm ashamed at the way I've lived my life. Matthew was so brave, and it cost him his, and I said, I don't know what to say to people. She just kept saying, Billy, you're you, just be you be yourself and you're going to find your voice. She's a great example of someone who was thrust into a conversation that she had obviously no intention of being in and at the expensive of her son losing his life. So, I just tried to model myself after her because Judy has come very, very far and is a powerful speaker, fierce now, but when she started, she was very, very shy and probably didn't know who she was talking to for the most part. Now she's very close, her and Dennis, her husband, Maththew's dad. It just really changed my life, Karen, that was the moment where I said, I'm going to stop lying, I am not going to apologize, I'm not a bad person. I tried to be nice to everybody I've ever met in my life, and I'm just learning for myself. I expected myself to be perfect, I guess and whenever I fell short I thought that was a failure.
Karen Ortman 1:20:45
I think she gave you excellent advice. And, I think you are very hard on yourself. And, I think you are exactly where you should be in life. I think you're providing a tremendous service.
Billy Bean 1:20:57
I really appreciate that, I do. Iappreciate the chance to share memories with this generation. I'm so inspired by the opportunity that I have to be in these conversationsand living in New York myself is something that reminds me. We worked really hard to get to have a float in the Pride Parade two years ago and to be around a million people, mostly young and just fierce, fierce soldiers in the crusade to advance equality. I appreciate you allowing us to talk about the way it used to be for people like me, and I really am inspired to provide as much information through my life experience. I'm not an expert in anything, except now we have good intentions to educate for professional athletes to try to find a common ground. I used to think there never could be, but there is, because everyone with the platform has a chance to impact a human life and that's a great beginning of a conversation.
Karen Ortman 1:22:21
So, in July 2014, Major League Baseball contacted you and asked you to be the ambassador for inclusion. What does that mean? What is an ambassador of inclusion.
Billy Bean 1:23:13
The MLB was expanding their work place anti-harassment, non-discrimination policy in early 2014 and expanding it to include sexual orientation for the first time. I was out of baseball for a very long time and had been living a life on the fringe, and have remained a fan. They called me prior to July and I wasn't sure what they wanted from me, it was interesting. They asked me if I would fly to New York City just for a meeting and they just sort of sat me in a chair, and much like today, you can tell I can start talking and keep going and going and going. We had a very long meeting, I met some really incredible people that all work at MLB still, and they offered me what you just said, they asked if I would be interested in being MLB's very first Ambassador for Inclusion, which did not have a definition of a job. It was about communicating at the onset my experience and trying to educate players the to have a broader consideration for respect and acceptance of everyone in the workplace. With their ability to represent the sport via social media, it was it was an evolving environment. It was a novelty at the time, is it's amazing how far the world has come since 2014. The one caveat that changed and allowed me to move up, I've since expanded my responsibilities a couple of times, at MLB was that I had some really strong relationships intact from when I was a player. Baseball is very interesting, the scale of the sport is very big. With the minor leagues, you can have a career in that sport if you are a great athlete and a great baseball player, but also if you are a great person, and love the game, and I had played with or against 27 of the 30 MLB managers that were active in 2014. Once I was able to communicate what my intentions were, I was invited to speak to about half the sport in 2015 in spring training in the Big League club houses, which is very heralded, time limited environment. I wasn't coming at anyone with a poor Billy Bean story, or what you're not doing story, or a lesson in semantics; it was the, why baseball can be so amazing for others as a sport of Jackie Robinson, and what we have to do to continue to try to live up to that legacy. I think baseball, for a while, wasn't focusing on our responsibility in that space the way we are now. Now, it's absolutely priority for every organization and every owner that their players are exposed to resources and conversations that are educational, and talk about social responsibility, talk about ramifications, talking about responsibilities when you're wearing the uniform, and why acceptance and respect are so important to those who follow our sport.
Karen Ortman 1:27:07
And in 2016, you were named Vice President of Social Responsibility and Inclusion. That's your current position, correct?
Billy Bean 1:27:23
That was an interesting evolution. I was able to expand the conversation beyond LGBT. My first promotion carried social responsibility in the title, right now, I'm VP and a Special Assistant to the Commissioner, which means I wear a lot of hats. I oversee an education program called, the head and account for all of our minor league players, which is like introductory education when they sign their contracts. I started a bullying education prevention program called Shred Hate which partnered with ESPN, we created curriculum, went into schools, they were great charitable partner that were experts in that space.
Karen Ortman 1:28:16
In high schools or colleges?
Billy Bean 1:28:19
We do elementary, middle and high school.
Karen Ortman 1:28:23
Oh, wow. Okay.
Billy Bean 1:28:23
It's all age appropriate education. We had 13 teams that participant in the program, 13 MLB cities, and we hope that'll be 30 when the COVID world hopefully, is repaired? I was really strong about raising the visibility of mental wellness resources for our players. I'm in a lot of conversations, I'm on all of our DEI committees with their owners and our internal. I'm trying to learn as much as I can and be an influencer in this space. I think we have to evolve. My willingness to learn now is equal to, I think, my stubbornness of my bad choices a long, long time ago.
Karen Ortman 1:29:14
But in fairness to you, the resources available today and the initiatives that you've been pushing forward didn't exist for you, Billy, being the player 20 years ago.
Billy Bean 1:29:31
Yeah. I think a lot of the players think I'm the Chief Diversity Officer, basically.
Karen Ortman 1:29:37
Billy Bean 1:29:37
They know me and we have some amazing people. Now, we have a Chief of People and Culture Officer named Michelle Meyer Ship who just came from the corporate world into baseball. You know, 2020 has elevated whatever obstacles or blocks for social justice that existed. I think they've been knocked down. Hopefully, that will be the one legacy of George Floyd's tragic murder, that I think the rest of the world, or at least the United States has started to wake up and admit that when things don't intersect with our lives each and every day, it's easy to ignore them or pretend that they are not happening. There's there's great opportunity right now for everyone to get better, and baseball is doing some great stuff.
Karen Ortman 1:30:38
Yeah. Have you seen a change in the number of LGBTQ athletes coming forward since your retirement from baseball?
Billy Bean 1:30:46
I mean, it's unrecognizable at the high school and college levels, the women's sports, the WNBA in particular. It's still, I would say, an environment for men's team sports, we have not seen athletes come forward, We've had a few in the minor leagues that I've worked very closely with but they their careers did not result in big league call ups and they're no longer playing. There's a lot of decisions that go into that right now and I think for whatever might have been when I was playing, the dialogue, the culture that's in the clubhouse, those images, the messaging consistency there is telling players that if they are ready to come out, that they will be supported. Ownership, managers, my visibility, I, - teams have me dress out and spring training and throw batting practice -we're trying to continually be that message, but it is a lot for a young person to make that decision. It's not so simple to just say that you should do it. I think it's an example that we have a long way to go, but the embracing of the unified message of LGBTQ plus acceptance, participation, and pride events, community involvement support at the club level in their own communities is just, I'm profoundly proud of where we are now as opposed to where we were seven years ago.
Karen Ortman 1:32:42
And I'm sure that your presence there, being somebody who lived through being in the closet as a professional athlete, really resonates with those who might be similarly situated.
Billy Bean 1:32:56
I want to be an example for those athletes to know that, that they don't have to make that decision unless it's what they want to do. I am a baseball player to my core and I still carry myself that way. I think they see that my job is to continue to improve the culture and provide, our employment outreach to LGBTQ plus people for positions in our front offices, These are amazing ways that we will mainstream diversity and provide not only a diverse work environment, but an inclusive one. Careers for athletes are getting shorter, the stakes are higher than ever financially. I think that these are the reasons that are keeping it from happening as often as I think we were projecting a few years ago. I think that we're gonna see a lot of former athletes come out soon, we've seen some in the NFL as soon as they're done playing. Their images are still young and youthful, they will be influencers in their sport. For me the most important part is that young athletes have self worth and feel valued, and they know that even if they only come out to their parents or their best friend, that is part of the coming out process. I thought I had to come out in front of a step and repeat with a team logo and a microphone. I didn't. And that was the beginning of where I started to make the most mistakes. Empowering people to feel good about themselves, these are ways to get us to where we want to go.
Karen Ortman 1:35:16
Is your husband a baseball fan?
Billy Bean 1:35:19
He is he grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire and his family are all Boston Red Sox. Big time fans. He became very popular when he introduced me because of their sports background, but he's a he's great, he knows how hard we work behind the scenes. He's a great sport, he loves to join at games. He's a doctor and he has a great job, probably more important than mine. His name is Greg and he's really helped me be better than I used to be. I feel terrible still, when I draw on my history about how my relationship with Sam ended. I feel very fortunate that baseball gave me a chance to circle back. I can't fix what I did but I can share and hopefully, allow us all to be a little less hard on ourselves, like you said, and forgive that we aren't experts at everything. Education, communication, community, these kinds of things, centralizing experiences, that help us do better.
Karen Ortman 1:36:50
I think you're an outstanding individual. I so appreciate you coming to speak with me and tell your story. You have really important things to say and I know that you're going to touch many of our listeners. But one more question. How do you feel about your name today? Billy Bean.
Billy Bean 1:37:13
My name is a been a blessing, I have to say. I thought I was cursed when I was a little boy. It's funny because my name is Billy Bean, it's not Billy. It's two names fused into one. I get tons and tons of baseball card collectors, and I think it's just because the name rolls off the tongue pretty good. So, it's become a blessing. Again, I thought my name had to be Billy Smith to be you know, perfect, I think when I was little but now I wouldn't trade it for the world. I've learned to embrace my imperfections and try to go from there.
Karen Ortman 1:38:00
There you go. I like that.
Billy Bean 1:38:03
Nobody's ever asked me before, well done.
Karen Ortman 1:38:06
So thank you to my guest, Billy Bean, and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter if any information presented was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Public Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like, and subscribe to You Matter on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Tune in or Spotify.