Barrier broken: Prospect shares that he's gay
Brewers' Denson comes out in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article
David Denson, a first baseman/outfielder for the Brewers' Rookie-level affiliate in Helena, Mont., revealed that he is gay on Saturday night in a story that appeared overnight in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"Talking with my teammates, they gave me the confidence I needed, coming out to them," Denson told Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel. "They said, 'You're still our teammate. You're still our brother. We kind of had an idea, but your sexuality has nothing to do with your ability. You're still a ballplayer at the end of the day. We don't treat you any different. We've got your back.'
"That was a giant relief for me. I never wanted to feel like I was forcing it on them. It just happened. The outcome was amazing. It was nice to know my teammates see me for who I am, not my sexuality."
Denson becomes the first active player affiliated with a Major League organization to come out publicly. Late Major Leaguer Glenn Burke's homosexuality was revealed to the public in an Inside Sports magazine article after he retired from baseball in 1982, and current MLB Ambassador of Inclusion Billy Bean, who played in the big leagues from 1987-95, also came out after retirement.
"David is a highly respected member of the Milwaukee Brewers family, and he is a very courageous young man," said Brewers GM Doug Melvin in a statement released Sunday morning. "Our goal for David is to help develop him into a Major League player, just as it is for any player in our system, and we will continue to support him in every way as he chases that dream."
Denson, who is the Brewers' 27th-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com, was selected by the Brewers in the 15th round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of South Hills High School in West Covina, Calif. A left-handed hitter, he is batting .245 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 42 games for Helena after a 24-game stint for low Class A Wisconsin.
As it turned out, Bean's role in baseball contributed to Denson feeling comfortable and confident enough to share his story with the world. Bean offered Denson support and friendship, assisting the player in reaching out for the phone interview that led to the Journal Sentinel story. Denson had already confided in the Brewers' front office and his teammates and received their full support.
"I am very proud of David for having the courage to share his truth," Bean said. "First and foremost, he is a baseball player, and his dream is to make it to the big leagues.
"He had been struggling with this decision for a while, and it reminded me of my playing days. However, with the support of his teammates and the accepting environment created by the Milwaukee Brewers for their players, David made the decision to play baseball as his best self. He now becomes a role model in our sport, and I will be rooting for him every day."
Denson's disclosure comes a few months after independent league pitcher Sean Conroy of the Sonoma (Calif.) Stompers came out as gay. Conroy, who is believed to be the first active professional baseball player to do so, pitched a shutout with 11 strikeouts hours after the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states.
"It's something that I've wanted to do for the last few years, playing through college ball, seeing it as an opportunity to represent the cause and help young people in whatever way I can," Conroy told MLB.com in late June. "From the start, all of my teammates have been very supportive. It's great to have them have my back in the field and in the dugout. It's amazing."
Denson's revelation has arrived on the heels of quite a few notable similar events over the past few years in baseball and other major professional and collegiate sports.
Major League umpire Dale Scott, who is in his 30th year on the job, came out as gay in a trade magazine last October by allowing a photograph to be used in the publication that depicted Scott with his husband, Michael Rausch. The photo eventually got to Outsports.com, where Scott officially came out to the public two months later.
"It's obvious Dale has a tremendous life partner and great friends around him, and I envy his choice to trust those he loved," Bean wrote in his column for MLB.com at the time. "It has helped him carve out an amazing career."
Other notable athletes who have come out recently include former center Jason Collins, who became the first active National Basketball Association player to do so when he wrote about it in an article in Sports Illustrated on May 6, 2013, and University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon, who became the first Division I men's college basketball player to come out as gay when he did so to ESPN and Outsports in April 2014.
Willamette University kicker Conner Mertens became the first active college football player in the U.S. to come out, revealing he is bisexual in January 2014, and soccer player Robbie Rogers became the first openly gay male athlete to join one of the five major American professional sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS) when he played for the Los Angeles Galaxy of MLS in May 2013.
Michael Sam, the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American defensive lineman at Missouri, made headlines worldwide in February 2014 by revealing mere months before making history by becoming the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team.
Sam was selected in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams, but he did not make the team out of training camp and most recently suited up for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in early August before departing the club on Friday, citing mental health concerns.
Denson said in the Journal Sentinel piece that he has already noticed improvement in play since he got this burden off his back. In fact, Denson played for the Pioneer League in its recent All-Star Game against the Northwest League and went 2-for-3 with a pinch-hit home run, two RBIs and two runs scored to be named his team's Top Star by MiLB.com.
"I don't have any expectations of what might happen," Denson told the Journal Sentinel in Saturday's article.
"I'm hoping it will open the eyes of people in general that we're all people, we're human, we're brothers in the sport. We're all here trying to get to the big leagues. I'm excited to see where it goes from here, now that I don't have that wall holding me back anymore."