Billy Bean & Ben Cohen Discuss Gay Men in Sports
By Jerry Portwood
Billy Bean has been a gay icon for well over a decade now, being the first former Major League Baseball player to publicly come out in his 1999 landmark memoir, Going the Other Way. People such as former Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy have credited him with helping them grapple with their own conflicted issues with sexuality. And Bean, who is now a real estate agent for the Los Angeles area, has continued to lend his voice and presence to discussions about openly gay athletes in America.
In May of this year, Bean joined forces with former rugby player (and Out cover star) Ben Cohen, who is straight, by becoming the vice chairman of Cohen's StandUp Foundation, which he founded to combat homophobia and bullying.
The organization then teamed up with Nike to cosponsor the company’s #BETRUE 2013 Pride campaign.
In addition to offering a range of Pride-themed products, the sports brand also had a strong presence at the San Francisco Pride Festival last weekend. Nike also sponsored a “Glow Run” on the evening of June 28, when Bean and Cohen ran side by side with more than 150 people decked out in Nike Pride shirts and glowing accessories though the city’s historic Castro district to kick off the weekend’s celebration.
The Advocate asked Bean and Cohen what they thought of the recent SCOTUS rulings that have effectively dismantled DOMA and allowed same-sex couples to marry legally once again in California.
"It’s hard for people to understand the validation of everything you have hoped for and to just know that we’re a part of this world and we’re not just some invented behavior that so many people have tried to forecast on us," Bean said. "It’s just been a great feeling all around."
As Cohen, who is married and the father of two children, "I don’t care if somebody is gay or straight as long as they’re happy. But the Supreme Court’s decisions will help to educate the next generation," Cohen said. "We’re all born with no hate; it’s what’s put into us that changes that. I think of when I drop my kids off at nursery, I see these young kids who don’t care about the color of your skin or who you love, they just want to run and play. It’s amazing to see the core values that have been taught to them, and I think the Supreme Court’s rulings are a huge step toward furthering the education of how the next generation will treat one another."
One thing that Bean says he's certain about: If politics and public opinion toward gay men had progressed this far when he was playing baseball in 1995, he would have remained in the sport. To get a sense of how things have changed over the years, watch a clip of the 20/20 Diane Sawyer interview with Billy Bean that aired in 1999.