Karen Ocamb

Why I Care About the LA Dodger's 'It Gets Better' Video

Filed By Karen Ocamb | September 29, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: anti-gay bullying, It Gets Better, LA Dodgers, Los Angeles, sports heros, teen bullying, Tommy Lasorda

I was happy to see via Huffington Post that I wasn't the only one initially suspicious of the motives behind the LA Dodgers' contribution to the It Gets Better Project against LGBT teen bullying and suicide. The piece cites LAist:

In declaring “It doesn’t matter which team you cheer for,” the Dodgers video also doubles as a somber follow-up to the opening game day tragedy in the stadium parking lot that found San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow the victim of a brutal beating handed down by a Dodgers fan.

I thought that, too, at first. I'd heard rumors right after the beating that the Dodgers fans had yelled homophobic slurs at Stow, thinking he was gay. I couldn't verify that rumor and the LAPD didn't include a hate crime charge against the man they incorrectly arrested so I let the matter drop.

Former legendary LA Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda (Photo by SD Dirk from Flickr Creative Commons)

But I have long thought the LA Dodgers were homophobic, a culture created by their former longtime manager Tommy Lasorda. In 1991, Lasorda's son Tommy died of AIDS. Some of us thought that was a huge opportunity for a major sports figure to talk about AIDS and homosexuality - but Lasorda steadfastly refused to acknowledge his son was gay and died of AIDS. He was apparently still in denial in 2007. For the memorial, Lasorda said that in lieu of flowers, donations should be sent to some baseball museum or something in Orange County.

Right. I met his son Tommy at a 12 Step meeting in West Hollywood. He was tall, very thin, dressed all in black and had an Andy Warhol blond haircut and "effete artist" demeanor. I couldn't help but wonder how he handled his father's disappointment in him not being a jock. But in fact the Tommy I met in those clean and sober rooms during the height of the AIDS crisis embraced his own authentic identity as a creative person.

When his father publicly denied his son in death, I got royally pissed off. I wrote about it and I even went to a Dodgers Day (or whatever it was called) where fans are partially allowed on the field to get autographs from their favorite stars. I tried to chase Lasorda down to ask him directly and publicly about his gay son - but I was not able to catch him. The PR people never put me through or got me a quote, either. No real surprise there.

I have secretly harbored these ill feelings towards the Dodgers ever since. Which is why I almost didn't post this video.

Then I watched it. Since I don't watch Dodgers baseball, I don't know who these guys are. The HuffPo identifies them as "coach Don Mattingly, James Loney, Matt Guerrier, Jamey Carroll, A.J. Ellis, Rod Barajas and Hiroki Kuroda saying, “you are worthy,” and “you’re not alone, we’re on your side” in English, Spanish and Japanese."

I suspect they know about the legendary Tommy Lasorda and may know that Tommy Lasorda Jr. was gay and died of AIDS. But whether they do or not doesn't matter. I was moved by their sincerity - and dare I say - it got better for me seeing how the Dodgers had changed.

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That background is something I didn't know at all. Great post, Karen!

Nice article. However what is missing from your background on Lasorda is any mention of Glenn Burke, who was the first openly gay MLB player, of only two to have come out. In addition to this, Burke also started the tradition of high-fiving players after a home run, introducing the gesture into popular culture.

When Burke was playing for the LA Dodgers, the homophobic Lasorda traded him to the Oakland Athletics after Burke refused to engage in a lavender wedding.

I bring this up, as I am president of the Pflag Oneonta/Otsego chapter (where the Baseball Hall of Fame is located) and we are currently petitioning to have the Baseball Hall of Fame to honor the legacy of Glenn Burke.

The petition can be viewed here:
Thank you,
-Jeremy Redlien

Yes, it is hard to discuss the Dodgers and Lasorda, Sr. and that era and not mention Glenn Burke. For those who don't follow baseball, there's a documentary about that (mostly) out baseball player, reviewed here by OutSports. Burke's sudden trade to Oakland was supposedly hastened by the fact that he had taken to hanging out with Tommy, Jr.

Thanks for reviewing this video, Karen. It is evidence that things do change, although never enough or quickly enough. I prefer to watch major league baseball on the tube, not at the park, due to the still inevitable drunken taunts of "fag" this and "homo" that hurled at the players from the stands. And that, frequently, is from the HOME team fans directed at their own team's under-performing players.

One thing disturbed me about your personal account - that you felt entitled to "out" Tommy Lasorda, Jr. as a member of a 12-step group. Anonymity is one of the core tenets of these programs. Do you feel there is some sort of statute of limitations, after which your implicit promise can be broken?