‘Gay Can’t Play’: Bryan Ruby talks about homophobia in athletic culture

On April 7, Vassar alum Bryan Ruby ’19 returned to campus to give a talk entitled “Gay Can’t Play: Breaking Ground in Professional Baseball.” Ruby was a transfer from Emory University who played on Vassar’s baseball team for three seasons, from 2017 to 2019. While at Vassar, Ruby was named to the Liberty League All-Academic Team in 2018 and All-Liberty League First Team in 2019. He pitched and played the field, with 2018 being his best season at the plate, when he slashed .353/.432/.490. But after his college career ended, Ruby wasn’t yet ready to hang up his cleats. Since graduating from Vassar, Ruby has played in pro-leagues in Austria, Chile, Germany, Guatemala, Peru, Switzerland and most recently the United States. Many of these leagues don’t pay particularly well and generally don’t offer a lot of fame, which demonstrates how much he loves the game. “I told myself I’d go to the end of the earth if it meant I could keep my baseball career alive,” he explained in an interview with USA Today. Ruby is also concurrently pursuing a career in country music, where he has written songs that appeared on the Texas Country Top 50 chart and iTunes Country Top 25. He is currently working on his debut EP.

But the reason Ruby has made headlines in the past year is because he recently became the only openly gay player active in professional baseball. In September 2021, USA Today published an interview with Ruby where he publicly came out as gay. Last week, he shared his story to a room in Taylor Hall, filled with Vassar students, faculty and staff. He reflected on Christmas 2020, when he was getting ready to post a picture to Instagram of himself and his significant other: “I got it all ready and was about to click post, and then the words of somebody I respect a lot in baseball entered my head. He told me that ‘if you ever acknowledge you are gay, you will never get a spot in baseball again.’” Ruby didn’t post the picture, but he wasn’t happy about it. “It was really really demoralizing to be at Christmas and to finally be at this point in my life where I have found someone that I love and I can’t even post a picture of us…I decided then and there on Christmas, that if I get a spot [on a team this spring], I am gonna come out.”

The rest, as they say, is history. But Ruby didn’t stop at just telling his own story publicly, he decided to found “Proud To Be In Baseball,” an advocacy and support group for LGBTQ+ representation in baseball. In an article he penned for USA Today after their original interview with him was published, he described the purpose of the group: “Our group’s aim is to bring together isolated queer ballplayers and show that it is okay to be yourself in baseball. In a culture with deep closets and long standing traditional beliefs, we exist solely to help other ballplayers.” The organization’s mission statement, found on their website, explains the ways in which the organization hopes to create change. “Proud To Be In Baseball provides resources, educational opportunities, and raises awareness while building the LGBTQ community in America’s pastime.” At the bottom of the page there is a box where anyone can submit some contact information for the organizers to connect them to queer ballplayers in their area. “It is a support group, first and foremost, but we are going to be doing a ton of advocacy work as well,” Ruby explained during his talk at Vassar.

Ruby explained that his teammates and coaches at Vassar were very accepting and supportive of him. But he also acknowledged that not everywhere in the world is like Vassar. “I’ve been super lucky compared to a lot of people in that I attended Vassar and grew up and found myself in an accepting environment. But it certainly wasn’t like that playing in the Guatemalan Professional Winter Baseball League and hearing some of the comments that people would say about people like me.”

There are plenty of reasons that could explain this, but Bryan Ruby believes that one of the main reasons is rooted in the macho and tough culture surrounding male sports. “It is definitely something that is trained into us as young athletes, I believe. Growing up in an environment where you hear homophobic comments on the regular is something that you have to overcome.”

All of that is why Ruby found it so important to have representation of gay athletes in professional sports and to ingrain a culture of acceptance in the next generation of athletes. “The reason that I came out wasn’t about me at all. It was because I felt like if I had known about somebody like me as that 14 year old kid who knew he was different, that would have made my life a whole lot easier.” Bryan Ruby has started laying the foundation for that process, by unapologetically being himself and working hard to support other baseball players who are facing the same adversity he did. At the end of his talk, Ruby shared his optimism that change can and will be made by leaving the audience with this quote: “If you lead with love, and you respect yourself and are proud of who you are, they will respect you.”

 

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