Thursday, May 24, 2001

When Will We See An Openly Gay Male Pro Athlete?

I listen to a lot of sports talk radio. I'm not advocating for sports talk radio; I'm just telling it like it is. The CD player in my car is on the fritz and most radio stations are unlistenable. I like sports so, despite the obvious fact that it's not exactly fun to listen to a half hour of speculation about what the Peter LaViolette (sp?) hiring means for the NY Islanders and the Bruins, I listen to 790 The Score as an alternative to hearing that Limp Bizkit song 10 times a day.

Lately, the big story's been the editor of Out magazine (all relevant links, and then some, at the bottom of this post) writing about the frustration of dating a gay Major League ballplayer. To the credit of most sports fans, the overwhelming majority of guys calling into the shows have taken a laissez-faire attitude towards the issue. There was one guy who called into the Jim Rome show who promised never to watch another game, or to let his son watch one lest it turn him gay, but his call spawned a stream of emails and calls into the show condemning his bigotry. The majority of people seem to think that the issue is a non-issue and don't really care who it is and if he comes out or not, or even if the story is just a publicity stunt. There also seems to be a consensus that it might be in the (putative) player's best interest to remain closeted because he's likely to be ostracized by his teammates and other players if he does come out. Rome is of the opinion pro ballplayers are, on the whole, not well-educated, intolerant, and would probably make his life hell. Not being a pro-athelete, I can only guess what the mentality of the typical pro sports team's locker room might be like, but extrapolating from my memories of the high school lockeroom and considering how that atomsphere might be perpetuated in an athelete's life, it wouldn't surprise me (though it would disappoint me) if Rome turned out to be right.

If the story isn't a publicity stunt and there is a gay ballplayer who would like to come out, does that ballplayer have a responsibility to the gay community to come out? Would gay teenagers struggling with their sexuality appreciate an athelete coming out? Would he be a Jackie Robinson figure for gays? I have to admit that while the true story here is about gays being able to seek life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with equal protection under the law and so on and so on, I'm primarily interested in how the story relates to baseball.

When I think in terms of Jackie Robinson, I think it would be good for baseball to have a star player who happened to be gay. Baseball, notoriously traditional, reactionary, and old-fashioned had one period in its history where it took the lead seeking to correct a societal wrong, and that was when Robinson and Branch Rickey worked together to break the color barrier. Later, in the 70's and 80's a fascinating labor drama, sparked by Curtis Flood, played out in the court battles over free agency and the reserve clause and culminated in the owners response -- the collusion scandal, which nobody remembers because labor history in this country is dismissed out of hand as the provence of left-wing eggheads ... but I digress. Aside from that Jackie Robinson era, it's hard to think of another time when baseball had the moral high ground and was something to be justly proud of. I'd like to see baseball be a leader in that regard again. I'm tired of reading little more than snide articles about A-Rod's salary and John Rocker being the game's most famous exponent of any value system.

Another part of the of this story that fascinates me is the intensity of talk about the speculation over who the gay ballplayer might be. Radio hosts proud of their unbigoted reaction to the story can't resist trying to narrow down who it might be. Lemon, the Out editor who wrote the article, was being interviewed tonight when I was driving home from work (that's the interview that finally prompted this post) and the host, I forget his name, kept asking questions obviously meant to draw out more clues even while professing to be respectful of the player's privacy. Lemon, who says his philosophy is not to out people and professes to respect his ballplayer's privacy, really did make speculation inevitable when he danced around the topic in the first sentence of his article: "For the past year and a half, I have been having an affair with a pro baseball player from a major-league East Coast franchise, not his team’s biggest star but a very recognizable media figure all the same." Immediately, the list of East Coast ballclubs comes to mind: Boston, the New Yorks, Philly, Baltimore, Atlanta (or is that the South, not the East Coast?) ... anyways, you see what I mean, that's only a handful of teams and once you cross out the big stars ... I have to admit I'm curious for curiousity's sake too.

Well, as promised above, here are some links germane to this post:
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