Right-handed pitcher Tyler Dunnington was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 28th round of the 2014 MLB draft out of Shelton High School in Shelton, Washington.
In that same year in which he was drafted, Dunnington pitched in the Gulf Coast League, and for the Cardinals’ Low-A affiliate, logging 29 strikeouts in 32 innings with a 3.09 ERA. After an encouraging debut in professional baseball, Dunnington left the game, and nobody knew why — until now. Dunnington sent an email to Outsports.com, detailing his decision to leave professional baseball after that first year in the Cardinals organization.
After visiting Outsports a few times, I wanted to share my story with you.
My name’s Tyler Dunnington, and I was a 28th-round pick by the St Louis Cardinals in the 2014 MLB Draft. I was one of the not-so-many players to be given a chance to pursue my dream of being a Major League Baseball player.
I was also one of the unfortunate closeted gay athletes who experienced years of homophobia in the sport I loved. I was able to take most of it with a grain of salt but towards the end of my career I could tell it was affecting my relationships with people, my performance, and my overall happiness.
I experienced both coaches and players make remarks on killing gay people during my time in baseball, and each comment felt like a knife to my heart. I was miserable in a sport that used to give me life, and ultimately I decided I needed to hang up my cleats for my own sanity.
After a little over a year of being gone from the game I’ve come to realize I thought I was choosing happiness over being miserable. That is not necessarily the case. My passion still lies in baseball, and removing myself from the game didn’t change that. Most of the greatest memories I have are with this sport. After gaining acceptance from my friends and family I realized I didn’t have to quit baseball to find happiness.
I not only wanted to share my story but also apologize for not using the stage I had to help change the game. Quitting isn’t the way to handle adversity, and I admire the other athletes acting as trailblazers.
First thing’s first — I’m glad that Dunnington realized his mistake in leaving the game, because baseball is the greatest game in the world, and it’s not people like Tyler who should be leaving. It’s the people who made the comments that made Tyler feel like he had no other choice but to leave who should be leaving. For those of us who have played organized sports at any level, we’re no stranger to this kind of language. Maybe not to the certain degree of hatred where “killing” is being discussed, but even if you’ve never played organized sports before, you’re introduced to this type of language as early as elementary school. That’s the world we live in, and it has to stop.
Think of it this way; if you were caught using that kind of language in school, or at your full-time job, what would happen? There would be severe consequences. Why are baseball clubhouses any different? Perhaps the most alarming part about the whole story is that coaches were looped into this type of behavior. You can almost rationalize that kind of behavior from immature kids just drafted out of high school, but from coaches? As an individual who the organization has personally selected to help lead, coach and guide these young players, to set an example like that is inexcusable and reflects poorly on the entire organization.
As of today, there are currently zero openly gay players in the MLB. The law of percentages would tell you that there are likely dozens of players in the game who identify as being gay. Only two MLB players, Billy Bean and Glenn Burke, have come out as being gay, but it was after they retired. Why do you think that is? For one, I’m sure there’s the reluctance to be identified as “the gay baseball player” instead of just being a baseball player. You’re also opening yourself up to harassment from fans in the stands and on social media, etc., which I’m sure you’d want to avoid at all costs.
But, like Dunnington details in his account of being a minor league player, it’s, unfortunately, a part of the culture of the game. Yes, it’s a game. Yes, it’s meant to be fun. There are 162 games over the course of a major league season, so these guys are together a lot. They become friends. They become family. They become comfortable around each other. Perhaps too comfortable. Baseball players and coaches are around each other more than they’re around their own friends and family. Because of how much time they spend together, they probably start acting like they would act around their real friends, when they’re sitting on the couch, watching the game and having a beer. But that’s not where they are. There’s nothing wrong with being friends with your teammates, but the clubhouse, the baseball field, all of it — it’s a place of work, and it should be treated as such.
I circle back to my point about the law of percentages and how many active players are gay, but haven’t come out yet. How many players are in the league right now that have to suffer through what Dunnington did, but they haven’t been able to speak up about it? Approximately 0.5% of high school baseball players are drafted by a major league team every year. Dunnington was part of that 0.5%, and took that next step to realizing his dream of becoming a major league baseball player.
He had that taken away from him, because his team, his organization and his league failed him. Had hateful speech like this been taken more seriously, somebody surely would’ve been notified that this was taking place, and hopefully the situation would’ve been handled appropriately, and Dunnington would’ve been able to continue his baseball career, while feeling safe enough to do so. He didn’t have to come out as a gay man in order for this to happen. You don’t have to be gay to be offended by the language that Dunnington was subject to hearing. All it takes is one person to be made an example of, to let the entire league know that behavior like this will not be tolerated, and the problem quickly becomes less and less until it is no more.
It’s extremely unfortunate that Dunnington felt that he couldn’t report this behavior while he was still in professional baseball. But just because he is no longer in the game does not mean that he can no longer have an impact on it. Here’s to hoping that his story changes the culture within the game, so that he will have the distinction of being the last player to walk away from baseball because of hate speech, but also the reason why nobody else had to.