MLB.com Columnist

Alyson Footer

Yogi and Athlete Ally team up for LGBT equality

Yankees legend has always stood for treating all groups with the same respect

Yogi and Athlete Ally team up for LGBT equality

MINNEAPOLIS -- Yogi Berra, Hall of Famer and lifelong ambassador for Major League Baseball, is as famous for his words of wisdom -- "Yogi-isms," if you will -- as he is for his stellar play on the field as one of the greatest catchers in history.

While his more well-known utterances, such as "It ain't over 'til it's over," and "Baseball is ninety percent mental, and the other half is physical" will forever be tied to the legend, there are other quotes Berra has offered in more recent times that have had a significant impact as well.

"Treat everyone the same."

"Respect the game, respect others."

These phrases, displayed prominently at a new exhibit at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, N.J., are intended as a show of solidarity between Berra and Athlete Ally, a not-for-profit organization that educates and activates athletic communities to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in sports.

Simply stated, the main goal of Athlete Ally is to champion LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) equality. Berra, who has always been a vocal proponent of equality for everyone, regardless of race or religion, views showing solidarity with an organization working to wipe out discrimination against the LGBT community as a logical next step.

"We thought this was very natural for us," said Dave Kaplan, director of the Yogi Berra Museum. "It's an extension of what we do programmatically."

The museum works closely with student athletes, engaging them in conversations about bullying, hazing and the locker room culture. The focus hasn't been specifically geared toward gay athletes, but the parallels are there. Fear of negative backlash could, as Kaplan said, "make them more reticent to come out."

The focus, instead, should be on a team concept and accepting everyone for exactly who they are.

"Being the best teammate possible, being goal-oriented," Kaplan said. "It's about others; it's not about you."

When approached by Athlete Ally, a partnership was quickly born. The Allyship exhibit was displayed at the museum from October of 2013 to June of this year, after which the museum shipped several items to complement the Athlete Ally booth at Fanfest.

When approached by Athlete Ally, a partnership was quickly born.

"I thought, 'My gosh, their message and who they're trying to educate is what our museum stands for,'" Kaplan said. "Respect the game and respect others. It was a natural partnership for us -- create awareness of the importance of equality and respect in sports."

The progression of equality in sports began in earnest in 1947, when Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the big leagues.

Breaking the barrier was just the first step, though. Combating prejudice requires support from influential figures whose words and actions can help move the cause forward. In Robinson's case, Dodgers stars Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Branca very publicly embraced their new teammate. Years later, Red Sox legend Ted Williams called for respect and inclusion of Negro Leaguers during his Hall of Fame induction speech.

When female reporters were discriminated against in the 1970s and '80s and not granted the same access to the team as their male counterparts, a handful of players stepped in to fight for the rights of those women. New York Times reporter Claire Smith received support from Steve Garvey and Goose Gossage, among others, when she had to combat prejudice from two sides, as an African American and a woman.

 

Without advocates, it's harder to take action. Athlete Ally has received significant support from the sports community, including Major League Baseball and its Internet arm, Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM).

Berra is one of several celebrity ambassadors who have partnered with Athlete Ally. Other professional ambassadors from the sports world include Jayne Appel form the WNBA, Connor Barwin (NFL), Kenneth Faried (NBA), Omar Gonzalez (MLS and World Cup), D'Qwell Jackson (NFL), Marcedes Lewis (NFL), Meg Rapinoe (NWSL) and Andy Roddick (tennis and Olympics).

Additionally, Athlete Ally has an advisory board filled with recognizable names, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Olympic diver Greg Louganis and retired tennis legend Martina Navratilova.

Advocates and supporters are asked to become part of the "Allyship." What exactly does this mean?

• Do know that your words matter.

• Don't make jokes about LGBT people. They could be your teammates, your coaches, or your fans.

• Do act like a leader. Take a stand.

• Do keep an open mind. Everyone has his or her own opinions and experiences to share.

• Don't make assumptions. Not everyone is straight, and not every LGBT person fits a stereotype.

• Do share your love of sports with everyone and make it a place where all are welcome.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.