CHICAGO -- Billy Bean stood at the front of a school auditorium on Monday and expressed to a room full of students how difficult watching baseball can be for him at times.Bean, a six-year Major League veteran who now serves as MLB's vice president for social responsibility and inclusion and
CHICAGO -- Billy Bean stood at the front of a school auditorium on Monday and expressed to a room full of students how difficult watching baseball can be for him at times.
Bean, a six-year Major League veteran who now serves as MLB's vice president for social responsibility and inclusion and a special assistant to Commissioner Rob Manfred, admitted that as a gay man, he was living a double life when he reached the big leagues in 1987. And in the prime of his career, he was not willing to take a chance on the ridicule he anticipated he would receive in a big league clubhouse.
So instead, Bean retired from baseball in 1995, a decision that more than 20 years later, he regrets.
"I quit on myself without giving someone a chance to say, 'Hey, it's OK,'" Bean told students during a "Shred Hate" bullying prevention assembly that the Cubs hosted at Prosser Career Academy.
Prosser is one of 18 schools in Chicago that participates in the Shred Hate initiative, and it is one of eight that the Cubs have partnered with to increase awareness that bullying continues to be a serious issue in schools across the country.
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In 2014, Bean was appointed by then-Commissioner Bud Selig as MLB's first ambassador for inclusion, which put Bean at the center of baseball's ongoing efforts for fairness and inclusion.
On Monday, Bean -- along with fellow former big leaguer and current ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez and two-time X Games skateboarding medalist Jordyn Barratt -- stressed the importance of communication at a time when students continue to be bullied.
Perez, the father of two girls, said he witnessed bullying growing up in Puerto Rico and did nothing. Looking back, Perez wishes he would have done more to stop what he saw, but now as a parent, he realizes he has to be more involved.
"[The Shred Hate initiative] gives you a skill set now that one can understand what to do, and it's part of the growing-up process," Perez said. "If we can help them with that process, more power to [kids] growing up and to the future."
Bean pointed to the example of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who, in 2017, reached out to the family of 12-year-old Henry Sembdner, who was beaten into a coma at his suburban Chicago school after reportedly bumping into another student. His tweet, using the hashtag #StayStrong, went viral, as did recent efforts by the Yankees, who also reached out in support of a young girl who was bullied at school.
On Monday night, the Cubs invited 350 students and parents to Wrigley Field for the Cubs' game against the Rockies. Seated in the bleachers under the park's iconic center-field scoreboard, students and adults alike wore red T-shirts that read "Shred Hate, Choose Kindness" -- a message that has been at the center of the MLB-driven campaign.
It's a message that is spoken often in 10-year-old Haley Durham's classroom at Chicago International Charter School Irving Park, where she and her fourth-grade classmates are taught to respect those around them. Durham said she has witnessed some of her fellow students being bullied, which saddens her to know that some are being marginalized.
Like Bean and Perez said earlier in the day, communication is the key. In Durham's case, it means telling a teacher that bullying is taking place.
"My class has gotten better about not bullying and standing up for each other," Durham said.
It's a support system that Prosser junior Diamond Francis has experienced after being bullied starting in the third grade. Francis said she has attempted suicide because of the bullying, but she has since found encouragement around her at a school that embraces the Shred Hate program. Had the program been in place when she was being bullied as a child, Francis insists she would have had more courage to stand up against it.
"Your first thought is, 'It's no one else [being bullied] -- it's me,'" said Francis, who is part of the Safe School Ambassadors Program at Prosser, which works to increase awareness of bullying. "So you put the blame on yourself before you actually realize other people can help you. ... In reality, it's never you."
Bean looks forward to a time when a fully funded anti-bullying campaign can be instituted and when Major Leaguers like Rizzo will have the opportunity to become more involved in campaigns like Shred Hate.
"In a minute, we can change the culture and try to make it cool to be a leader and to help somebody or to choose kindness instead of make fun of them or attack them in a cyber way," Bean said. "For me, communication is the core … and the more kids we can get in front of, the more we start to change the dialogue."
Jeff Arnold is a contributor to MLB.com.