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MLB's History Of Homophobia

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Last night during a live Major League Baseball doubleheader, Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic using a homophobic slur. Brennaman opened the fifth inning of the second game with an apology before he was taken off the air. The Reds issued a statement saying they're, quote, "devastated by the horrific, homophobic remark" and said Brennaman has been suspended, effective immediately. Fox Sports also said in a statement that they'd removed Brennaman from their NFL schedule. Ginny Searle is an associate editor at Baseball Prospectus, and she wrote about how the incident reflects on Major League Baseball's troubled history with LGBTQ communities.

Welcome.

GINNY SEARLE: Hi.

FADEL: So this isn't the first instance of this type of behavior. It's really one instance in a long history of homophobic slurs in the MLB, right?

SEARLE: Sure. Yeah. So in 2017, Kevin Pillar, who was an outfielder with the Blue Jays at the time, used a homophobic slur during a game. And then in 2018, several different players had old tweets that had a lot of different homophobic slurs resurfaced. Then last season, there was a player suspended - George Springer of the Astros - for using an anti-gay slur at an umpire. So that's just in the last few years. You know, I wrote in the piece it has become something of an annual occurrence. And...

FADEL: Wow.

SEARLE: ...I think it's pretty apparent why.

FADEL: So you have the Reds come out really quickly, saying they're devastated by this, it's horrific - dropping Brennaman. He's suspended immediately. But has Major League Baseball in general made any serious efforts to welcome the LGBT community in the past?

SEARLE: Well, you know, there are pride nights the different teams will hold at their stadiums. On social media, MLB will promote various pride efforts. I don't know that you would qualify them as substantial enough to be a complete affirmation of the LGBT community and give certainties that on every instance - not just the broadcast booth, not just in the stands - it's everywhere - in the locker rooms - everywhere - LGBT community is respected and not simply allowed, but welcomed as a substantial part of the community and providing support such that a player who is gay or LGBT in any way feels comfortable coming out and feels supported in doing so.

FADEL: What would you want to see Major League Baseball do to make substantial changes that would create a more inclusive environment where Brennaman wouldn't feel comfortable dropping a homophobic slur?

SEARLE: I think that it's a complicated question because, you know, part of it is - as much as this is a problem that MLB has to address, clearly, with relative consistency, it's also a problem that a lot of minor leaguers come into a system with these sort of values in place, or at least some of them do, as evidenced by these tweets that happened before players were professionals. And in fact, a Cardinals player who retired in 2015, Tyler Dunnington - he is gay and says that homophobic remarks that he heard as a member of the Cardinals organization were part of what influenced his early retirement. And that was in 2015.

So you know, it's not just a problem at the major league level. It's a problem beforehand. So it's about how to create the most inclusive environment possible. And while giving substantial support when instances like this happen is a good way to be reactive, I think that MLB has a good deal further it could go in being proactive.

FADEL: Ginny Searle is an associate editor at Baseball Prospectus.

Thank you.

SEARLE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.