In recent years, we have seen athletes like Jason Collins and Michael Sam make headlines for being two of the first openly gay men to play major professional sports in the United States. While there have been players (including baseball players) who have come out as gay after their professional careers were over, we still have not seen many pro athletes who were openly gay at the time they were playing. In fact, we have yet to see such a player in Major League Baseball, despite the progress made in recent years in LGBT inclusion.
Last week, Eno Sarris wrote an excellent piece over at Fangraphs looking at whether baseball was ready for an openly gay player. (I would definitely recommend reading the article in its entirety.) I thought the responses given by the players interviewed for the article were encouraging. While they acknowledged some of the difficulties an openly gay player could face (extra media attention, public backlash, etc.), they all seemed to believe that having an openly gay player on their team would not be a major issue for them or their teammates.
As a Cardinals fan, I would be interested to see if Cardinals players shared the same opinion. None of the Cardinals' players have been interviewed on this topic, as far as I know, so we can't really know for sure. Back in March, though, there was an interesting article in the Post-Dispatch which talked about MLB Ambassador for Inclusion Billy Bean visiting the Cardinals during Spring Training. Derrick Goold reported the following,
"The Cardinals are working to broaden some of the programs they have in place for players and they are bringing in guest speakers this spring to talk with the major- and minor-league teams about issues, on and away from the field. The death of Oscar Taveras in October in an alcohol-related car wreck has the team rethinking and improving counseling and resources it makes available for players. The Cardinals have expanded Cal Eldred's role so that he'll work more with players, and Matheny has an adviser who works specifically with his coaches. Matheny said the team has strived "for a good understanding of each (player) as an individual." The organization also has had for several years a program called "Cardinals Core" for younger players to help them with leadership, character, and off-field concerns.
Mozeliak welcomed Bean and strolled the team's complex talking about how he could add to those goals.
"We had a good talk," Mozeliak said. "It was about how what he's doing can possibly work with some of the things we're trying to do within our organization."
It is always encouraging to see organizations actively trying to increase their understanding on issues like this. As a Cardinals fan, I was happy to see that the Cardinals made the move of inviting Bean, an openly gay former player, to visit the team during Spring Training. It indicates that the organization is being proactive on inclusion. Further, the program the Cardinals already have in place for attempting to understand each player as an individual, which appears to have been spearheaded by Matheny, seems to be in step with accepting an openly gay player.
A little over a year ago, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports published an article where he stated that "baseball is ready for a Michael Sam." In the article, he talked to seven GMs, including Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, and all of them agreed that they would sign baseball's version of Michael Sam. As a Cardinals fan, I was particularly interested in reading what Mozeliak had to say. As Rosenthal wrote,
"St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, while aware of the comments by the NFL execs, said he does not even believe Sam's sexual orientation will affect how NFL teams view him.
As Mozeliak put it, "Overall, I feel in society and specifically in professional sports, you are seeing more tolerance to different issues. The sporting world is built on performance and talent, and that typically drives decisions.
What Mozeliak said was very similar to the comments of the other GMs quoted in the article. Basically, they are of the opinion that a player's sexual orientation is not, and should not, be a driving factor in a team's decision to sign a player. Teams care mostly about winning, and any player who has the talent to help their team win should get the opportunity to do so, regardless of their sexual orientation. My guess (and my hope) is that most players share the same opinion. They, too, care about winning, and hopefully, they would welcome any player who can help the team do that, regardless of factors like sexual orientation. Merit should trump sexual orientation. If a player is skilled at baseball, his sexual orientation should not matter.
With that being said, this isn't the mindset for every player, based on comments we've seen some players make publicly. Back in 2012, Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter (who was a member of the Tigers at that point) publicly discussed what it would be like to have a gay teammate:
"For me, as a Christian...I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning, biblically, it's not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable."
"I disagree with his lifestyle," Murphy said. "I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn't mean I can't still invest in him and get to know him. I don't think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect. Getting to know him. That, I would say, you can still accept them but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent."
"We love the people. We disagree with the lifestyle. That's the way I would describe it for me. It's the same way that there are aspects of my life that I'm trying to surrender to Christ in my own life. There's a great deal of many things, like my pride. I just think that as a believer trying to articulate it in a way that says just because I disagree with the lifestyle doesn't mean I'm just never going to speak to Billy Bean every time he walks through the door. That's not love. That's not love at all."
While I believe that these comments (especially Murphy's) are not founded in hate, these kinds of public statements are one of the reasons why gay people feel forced to hide who they truly are. Moreover, these comments reflect a misunderstanding of homosexuality itself. Disagreeing with the fact that someone is gay and saying that homosexuality is "not right" makes absolutely zero sense. All available evidence shows that one's sexuality is not a choice--people are born the way they are and have no control over their sexuality. Being gay is not a lifestyle as Murphy believes; it is part of who a person is, just like being left-handed is part of who Murphy is.
A person's sexual orientation is a definitional part of who he or she is. For many, so is religion. That is apparently the basis for Hunter and Murphy's statements about gay people. It's safe to say that Hunter and Murphy are not along among major-leaguers who hold such beliefs. And that is likely to be the source of any conflict within a clubhouse stemming from an openly gay player.
On the one hand, such a clash might be likely for the Cardinals. After all, Rob Rains wrote a book on the role faith has played for the Cardinals in recent years. On the other hand, if there is a manager in the majors more well-positioned to navigate the waters of an openly gay player on a team with a sizeable contingent of players who have strong religious convictions, it is Matheny.
Say what you will about Matheny's in-game decision-making, but by all accounts, Matheny is a player's manager, so to speak. The Cardinals like playing for Matheny and respect him. In his time as manager, Matheny has gotten his players to buy into his philosophy of the team as family. What's more, he has a strong managerial partnership with Mozeliak and was likely was involved in the decision to have Bean address the Cardinals in the spring. This seems to make him uniquely qualified to bridge any gap that might develop between an openly gay player and his teammates.
It is only a matter of time before there is an openly gay player in Major League Baseball. No, it probably won't be easy transition for whoever that player is, especially in a sport like baseball. Still, I am confident that the Cardinals as an organization are ready for an openly gay player.