EXCLUSIVE: Ross Katz, who produced The Laramie Project and the superb HBO pic Taking Chance, has signed on to write Out At Home: The Glenn Burke Story. He joins Juma Entertainment’s Jamie Lee Curtis and Robert Horowitz as producers of the film that tells the story of Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s player Burke, who was honest with his teammates and management that he was gay at a time in the 1970s when such a revelation was unheard of. It’s still perilous today, though the Brooklyn Nets’ Jason Collins just became the first openly gay player to play on a major pro sports roster, and 2013 SEC co-defensive player of the year Michael Sam is preparing to enter the NFL draft as football’s first openly gay player.
I have been surprised by the level of discussion on ESPN, where some ex-jocks expect Sam’s draft stock to fall simply because of the awkwardness in the locker room and the prospect that some athletes won’t accept him. Seems to me that skeptical players might want to watch the Jackie Robinson movie 42 before they decide whether they want to be on the right or wrong side of this issue when it is judged half a century down the road. I just don’t see much difference between Robinson’s struggle against racists and a player like Sam as they try to overcome bigotry to be accepted for their outsized athletic skills, and the right to be comfortable in their own skin.
All this brings a timely context to Out At Home, which is based on a 1995 memoir Burke wrote with Erik Sherman. Drafted by the Dodgers in 1972 and hailed as baseball’s next superstar, Burke played in the majors from 1976-79. He was the only rookie to start in the 1977 World Series, when the Yankees defeated the Dodgers in 6 games. A larger-than-life character both on and off the field, Burke unexpectedly was traded to Oakland in 1978. He retired after his second season with the A’s. Although his teammates and management knew the truth, Burke didn’t go public with his sexuality until 1982, in an appearance on NBC’s Today with Bryant Gumbel. It was still an act of courage, because Burke was the first ballplayer to do so.
“With Michael Sam’s brave and bold statement, he joins the trifecta of American sports — Glenn Burke, MLB; Jason Collins, NBA; Michael Sam, NFL — dealing with gay athletes, and forcing open the door permanently,” said Curtis. “Our film will clearly honor the force and the struggle to get there.”
Burke also was credited with inventing the high five. In 1977, while waiting in the on-deck circle at Dodger Stadium, Burke was the first to congratulate teammate Dusty Baker as he hit his 30th home run in the last game of the season. Burke raised his hand over his head to congratulate Baker as he crossed the plate.
Burke was diagnosed with AIDS in January 1994. He died on May 30, 1995, at 42.