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February 22, 2024

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Baseball player known for lifestyle, not average

William “Billy” Bean wasn’t a phenomenal major league baseball player by the usual standards. The utility outfielder only took the plate 487 times during his professional career. His statistics wouldn’t earn him a place at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and his 11-year baseball career wouldn’t bring many attendees to a lecture.

What he did after retirement filled the seats of an Olscamp auditorium last night.

In 1999, Bean announced he was gay, the second former major league player in history to do so. His speech, arranged by Vision, addressed an audience from all walks of life.

Bean realized his sexual orientation at 28. He said if anyone’s past represented a case against the idea of people choosing which gender they are attracted to, his did.

The step-son of a Roman Catholic Marine, exposure to the reality of alternative lifestyles for Bean was nonexistent.

“Every night my family would say a prayer and my dad would tell a fag joke to make sure we were tough,” Bean said.

He ended his 9-year marriage when he fell in love with a man. Paranoid that his secret would be exposed, he enforced strict rules around the home they shared for three years. He required his partner to never answer the phone and keep the front door closed at all times.

It was an open door that would alert Bean to something being wrong.

He discovered his partner on the floor of their kitchen stricken with a 106 degree temperature due to a burst pancreas.

Rushing with his partner to seek medical help, Bean drove past a hospital he and his teammates had previously visited out of fear of being recognized.

His partner died at a hospital 26 miles further away.

Bean played baseball the next day.

“I didn’t even ask if I could take a day off to go to the funeral,” Bean said.

His mounting fear of being discovered later drove him away from his lifelong dream of making it into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“I was running away,” Bean said.

An article on a restaurant he planned to open exposed his secret when he didn’t deny allegations that he was gay. The news spread like wild fire, appearing on the front page of The New York Times and leading to an interview with Diane Sawyer.

Bean remained hesitant to accept the title of role model until a chance encounter with Judy Shepherd, mother of the murdered gay college student Matthew Shepherd, inspired him to take an active role.

“I realized how selfish I was being,” Bean said.

His announcement brought with it support from the colleagues and family members he once most feared discovering his secret.

Bean challenged the audience to realize that even though their lives may take a different path than they planned, sometimes that can lead to even greater accomplishments.

“You can never underestimate the power you have,” Bean said.

He acknowledged the members of the University campus who are open, saying he wished he could have lived in a similar environment when he attended college.

“It’s a heroic place to be emotionally,” Bean said.

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