CHICAGO — Dave Pallone, who was part of Chicago history when he umpired the first night game at Wrigley Field, is returning to Chicago to take part in another chapter of American sports history: His inclusion in the inaugural class of what organizers say is the first-of-its-kind National Gay & Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.
On Friday night, Pallone will be honored in the first class of inductees that includes tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis, and Jason Collins, who in April became the first active male professional athlete in a major team sport to publicly reveal he was gay.
“It is a tremendous honor and ... I hope it gives young people and adults alike who happen to be LGBT and want to be in professional sports another example of why they should continue to strive for their dreams,” Pallone said.
Rick Garcia, a prominent Illinois gay rights activist agreed, saying he hopes the hall of fame encourages gay and lesbian youth to “have a career in sports and excel in that career and still be honest about who they are.”
The events will include a dinner Friday night to honor the inductees at a ceremony at the Center on Halsted and an event on Saturday at Wrigley Field called “Out at Wrigley,” which organizers says is the largest “Gay Day’ at a major league sporting event.
Executive Director Bill Gubrud said the decision to establish what he says is the country’s first hall of fame honoring gay athletes and their supporters is not tied to Collins’ announcement earlier this year. He said factors such as changing attitudes about homosexuals, particularly among young people, made him and others think this was the ideal time to create an institution that honors the contributions that gays have made in sports as well as the hardships many endured because of their sexual orientation.
Among those being inducted is the late Glenn Burke. An outfielder with the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1970s, Burke is widely believed to have delivered the first high-five. Though he did not publicly come out until two years after he left baseball, Burke maintained until he died of complications due to AIDS in 1995 that he was run out of the game by “prejudiced and homophobic” managers and front offices that knew he was gay.
“This will help preserve history,” said Gubrud. “You are not going to know where to go if you don’t know where you’ve been and many in the gay community don’t know Glenn Burke.”
Gubrud also said that a number of the inductees who are not gay are being recognized for having “helped create safe environment for LGBTs to compete in sports at every level.” Among those is Ben Cohen, an English rugby player. “He founded a foundation to stop bullying against LGBTs,” Gubrud said.
Gubrud said Chicago was chosen to be hall of fame’s home for a number of reasons, starting with the city’s place as a major gay tourist destination. Also, he said, “Chicago is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the United States.”
He also said the Cubs hold a special place in the gay community, explaining that it was the Cubs more than a decade ago that became the first professional sports team to place an ad in a gay newspaper.
Gubrud said a site for the actual hall of fame has not been selected, but that organizers are in the process of putting together a plan to raise money and find a building.