National Coming Out Day: Publicly gay pro baseball player creates support group for others
Bryan Ruby used to regularly Google "openly gay pro baseball player." He suspected he wasn't alone in searching for someone closeted like himself to serve as a beacon of hope so he wouldn't have to hide any longer.
Now that Google search leads directly to his own name, as Ruby became the only active openly gay pro baseball player in a coming-out story with USA TODAY Sports last month.
The aftermath to Ruby's coming out has been a whirlwind that's completely changed his life. While he converged his two professional identities – as a baseball player for the independent league's Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and country musician – with his personal one, he's now welcomed in a new source of identity: Role model and advocate. Ruby said he's already counseled several athletes of varying backgrounds and wants to "light a path" for others that was previously darkened.
"I've been showered with more support than I've ever had in my life," Ruby told USA TODAY Sports. "All the fears I had of people hating me or getting a fastball to the head never happened."
Ruby joined NFL player Carl Nassib and NHL minor leaguer Luke Prokop as one of the only three pro male athletes to be publicly out. But his coming out could merely be the first domino in the sport, as minor league pitcher Kieran Lovegrove came out several weeks later and reached out to Ruby to tell him how inspiring he was through his story.
In addition to Lovegrove, Ruby said he's had hundreds of people reaching out to him from the LGBTQ community, including some in baseball who are closeted and, like he once was, looking for a place to go for refuge and direction. That's why Ruby has helped create Proud To Be In Baseball, a non-profit support group that can serve as the beacon of light Ruby was looking for so long.
He's collaborated with fellow out players Michael Holland (heading the collegiate tier) and Sam Culwell (heading the high school tier), and the group has more than 30 members.
"We are a player-founded advocacy and support group born out of a need for LGBTQ+ representation at the ballpark," the website reads. "No queer person in baseball should ever feel alone. We are here to help."
Ruby said that while he had Billy Bean, MLB vice president and special assistant to the commissioner, as a mentor through his coming-out journey, not every player has that fortune. That's where Proud To Be In Baseball can fill a gap.
"Sometimes there's a disconnect that pro sports leagues can have with players," Ruby said. "This is a way for players to find each other. Most (closeted) players don't trust people in suits. They struggle to trust management, people in the front office, reporters in the media. But players or former players they can relate to. That's what we're trying to provide."
Ruby said his support group isn't necessarily about pro or college baseball players coming out publicly and that it's heavily focused on camaraderie and mentorship given the fears and emotional rigors of being gay in a sport where homophobia still persists. While Ruby knows that his own coming-out story mirrors a recent Outsports/University of Winchester study that revealed more than 95% of athletes who come out have a "neutral" or "positive" response from teammates, the fears in all levels of baseball – which often come from the top down – still make it a complicated individual process.
"There are real world concerns we still have to consider," Ruby said. "Some of the fears we experience in the closet can be irrational, but it's based on the possibility or reality of what could really happen. It's not all warm and fuzzy. Otherwise 100 more players would be out in baseball."