By ALEX TEKIP
Wendy Lewis shared a Chinese proverb during a session at the 2015 AWSM convention.
“If you tell me, I’ll forget. If you show me, I’ll remember, but if you involve me I’ll understand.”
Lewis, Major League Baseball’s Senior Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, and Billy Bean, MLB’s Ambassador of Inclusion, addressed the convention on their efforts to spearhead inclusion and acceptance in Major League Baseball.
Both understand first-hand why this initiative is important.
Lewis has worked for Major League Baseball for 28 years, primarily in human resources. As an African-American woman working in sports, she was outnumbered and discriminated against, but nonetheless climbed up the rankings to her current role.
Bean is one of two former players in the 146-year history of Major League Baseball to come out as gay. Glenn Burke came out publicly in 1982 and died in 1995, four years before Bean came out.
Bean played in the majors from 1987-1995, spending time with the Detroit Tigers, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.Yet Bean said he lived a secret life during his last three years in the big leagues.
The night before his sixth season, he came home and found his partner passed out in his bed. Bean rushed his partner to the hospital, where he ended up dying a few hours later. None of Bean’s teammates or family knew he was gay, so he had nobody he could tell.
Bean kept his sexual orientation a secret throughout the rest of his career and left baseball when he was on the cusp of becoming a solid major-league player. He never let his family know of his plans to exit the game.
“I never blamed baseball,” he said. “ I never thought they were the reason for my problem. I was really consumed with a self-destructive problem with my religious upbringing. My dad being very, very strict and thinking that being gay was just a sin that was going to send me straight to hell, basically. The way that that manifested myself in my last years it was really harmful as a player. The reason that I’m here today is it’s really with the courage of baseball. “
Now, Lewis and Bean directly impact baseball. Lewis helps orchestrate the MLB Diversity Business Summit, which was held in 2012 and will be held again in 2016.
Bean visits teams and speaks with them directly, sharing his story and a film about his playing days.
Bean and Lewis said they are proud of Major League Baseball for being at the front of the effort of inclusion in sports. They believe working towards inclusion is important in all sports because where one form of discrimination exists, all forms of discrimination exist.
“Where there’s homophobia, there is sexism,” said Lewis. “Where there’s sexism, there’s racism. So the reality is until you’re going to address all those things, there really is no conversation.”
The media, Bean said, plays an important role in creating the conversation about acceptance in sports. He said he believes a culture of acceptance will allow athletes of different races, sexes and sexual orientations to feel comfortable speaking to reporters who also practice acceptance and inclusion.
“What your expectation (as a media member) is…is about the responsibility for athletes to bring forth their truth and what kind of responsibility you would have reporting that,” he said.
Lewis and Bean said Major League Baseball’s diversity and inclusion initiative is not about forcing people to think a certain way, it’s about fostering awareness and providing opportunity, two principles that translate into the broader picture of sports and society.
“We don’t do lobotomies,” Lewis said. “This isn’t about changing a mind. It really is just about giving people the opportunity to have the fair right to participate, to compete and to not be judged differently because they do. Period.”