Billy Bean, who serves as vice president and special assistant to the Commissioner, sat down with Carley Johnson on Tuesday’s edition of "The Word on Woodward" to discuss Pride Month, diversity and inclusion and Major League Baseball’s social initiatives.
Bean -- a former Major League Baseball player for the Tigers, Dodgers and Padres -- joined the Commissioner’s Office in 2014 as the League’s first Ambassador for Inclusion. The focus of his role is to develop initiatives and educational ideas that focus on the inclusion of all people. Now, in his current capacity, he serves as a counselor to the Commissioner to keep him as aware as possible of the current cultural conversations and landscape, as well as what is going on in the LGBTQ+ world.
“The goal is to broaden our awareness, to focus and center on fostering the most inclusive, respectful and accepting workplace, in the clubhouse, front office and the gameday experience for fans,” said Bean, as he explained the responsibility that comes with professional baseball.
Part of that responsibility is not just providing the why, but also the how and possible solutions. Early on, part of the solution was finding a way to create a business model that shows how businesses can implement change and how it inevitably creates a better product -- a product that aims to represent everyone in the stadium, front office and dugout.
Bean explained his personal story and struggles as a professional baseball player who had not come out to anyone in his life, and the emotional toll it took on him. He reflected back on that time and the experiences and opportunities he has had since to be a voice in the industry.
“I walked into the Tigers' clubhouse last spring, Al Avila asked me to come share my story,” Bean said. “Brad Ausmus asked me to do it when I first got hired. Brad was my roommate in San Diego for 2 1/2 years. I didn’t think anyone in baseball would want to be my friend or know me if they found out I was gay. So I severed those relationships so they would stay about baseball. I didn’t give baseball a chance to help me.”
Throughout his time in the Commissioner’s Office, Bean has learned a lot and found ways to incorporate baseball into diversity and inclusion.
“It gives me great inspiration to be an agent of change,” Bean said. “I am always very respectful of baseball and the history. My job is to not make it about the ‘Billy Bean story,’ but about the why for our players. For me to have a platform to express how influential they are and how they can impact a kid’s life… baseball is so powerful and there is so much we can do.”
Conversations about diversity and inclusion encompass systemic racism, bias towards women in the workplace, and LGBTQ+ acceptance and understanding what that means. In the clubhouse, Bean makes it a point to educate players and give them the resources to understand their platform and to ensure them it is a safe place for them to voice their life experience and not be judged.
With June being Pride Month, MLB has many initiatives that highlight the LGBTQ+ community. Due to coronavirus, the activations throughout the month are virtual and include multiple panels and webinars to educate about different programs and organizations within the LGBTQ+ community.
On June 12, PFLAG hosted a webinar focusing on LGBTQ+ history and culture. “Working OUT at MLB” on June 23 will feature a discussion among LGBTQ+ baseball executives about their journey, individual struggles and the challenge of being a role model within the industry. MLB will host “Take Me OUT to the Ballgame…a Pride Celebration” later in the month.
The Tigers have shifted their Pride Month initiatives virtually as well. The Old English "D", now in rainbow colors, is proudly displayed on both @tigers and @tigresdedetroit. Throughout the month, the Tigers will be sharing favorite pictures and videos from past pride celebrations at the ballpark. Historical facts honoring pride month will be featured on @tigers throughout the month of June, highlighting pivotal moments in history for the LGBTQ+ community.
The Tigers and Major League Baseball are committed to diversity and inclusion. As Bean expressed multiple times throughout the interview, it is important to be a teacher, to do your homework and to remember the following: “We are all human beings. There is a chance to find connections and unite people. We have to do the work, we can’t just talk about it.”
To watch the full interview with Billy Bean, click here.