"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Steppin' Up and Steppin' Out

Big up Steve Buckley, longtime Boston sports writer, who came out today in a column for the Boston Herald. Wonderful news. It’s sad but true that homosexuality is the last great taboo in American sports. It shouldn’t be, but there you have it.

One day, there will be openly gay jocks in this country and somehow the Earth will keep turning.

As my wife said to me this evening, “Where you put your dick has nothing to do with your ability to hit the ball a country mile with millions of people watching.”

Back in 2003, I spoke with Rob Neyer about homosexuality in baseball:

BB: I’ve been talking about what kind of player it will take to come out of the closet, and I’ve think, like Jackie Robinson, it will have to be a man of great character as well as great skill.

Neyer: Yeah, I think that’s right. And in fact, I think the comparison is apt. I got some flak from some people today in response to my column. I said the first gay player to come out would be a hero, to me at least, along the lines of Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood. People said, You can’t compare being gay to being black. Okay, fine, so it’s not exactly the same thing, although one could argue that people are born gay, or at least with the propensity toward being gay, just as you are born black. But my point was, though I didn’t make it explicitly, is that the thing that Todd Jones is saying about a gay player is the exact same thing that was being said about a black player in 1947. What he’s saying is, Oh no, I don’t have anything against gays personally, I just don’t want them around here because they’ll be a disruption. It’s the same kind of crap that members of the Dodgers were saying in 1947. It’s a bunch of bullshit. He doesn’t want to have to deal with it, that’s what it comes down to. The point of my column was that Todd Jones should be able to say whatever he wants to, without fear of being fined or suspended.

BB: Or getting killed by the P.C. Police.

Neyer: Exactly. But I also made the point that I think he’s full of shit. It’ll be a great day when a gay player comes out. And eventually—I hope in my lifetime—there will be lots of gay players, and nobody will give a damn.

BB: Buster Olney told me that he thinks the first gay player will probably have to be an established star—although he made the point that Billy Bean was in as good a situation as he’d seen for someone to come out, with the Padres in the early ’90s. Do you feel it would take an established star to be able to get away with it?

Neyer: I do. I think you have to have the combination of being a great player and also having the personality to withstand all the hassle. If you weren’t a good player it would become very awkward for a couple of reasons. One, the other players would not be as accepting if you are the 25 guy on the roster. Now if you are the best player on the team, or close to it, your teammates are going be a little more likely to say, Okay we can live with this guy the way the Dodgers did with Robinson. It would also make it much tougher on management if the player wasn’t great. It’s going to cause a disruption; there is no question about that. The media circus is going to be crazy when it happens. And the team will be put in this really awkward position. What if the guy is the 25th guy, and he really didn’t deserve a spot on the club? But they wanted to send him out. People will say you are only sending him out because he’s gay. And nobody wants to be put in that position, no team wants to be put in that position.

BB: Nobody wants to be the Pumpsie Green of the movement.

Neyer: That’s right. For all parties considered I think it’s going to work better if it’s a great player, or at least a good player. I think having him be the back-up shortstop could be a problem.

BB: One of the questions I have is what would a player stand to gain by coming out? Is it simply a guy saying, “I don’t want to live a lie anymore?”

Neyer: Or again it could be a guy who thinks this is important for other gays. That’s talking about the principle. I don’t know if it’s really our job to distinguish between motivations. It’s certainly more admirable if the player is doing it out of a sense of justice as opposed to a sense of “I just can’t live a lie anymore.” Either one is admirable I suppose, and we should be sympathetic to either position. But if there is something larger involved than just, “I can’t do this anymore unless I tell people I’m gay,” it would be meaningful. It’s not a selfless act in that situation, it’s more of a selfish act, which I can certainly sympathize with, and would cheer for him as well, but it wouldn’t be the same as somebody who would do it because he felt that he had a responsibility to make things better.

BB: I assume that there are gay ballplayers just like there are gay accountants. Do you think that teams and the writers who cover those teams know or suspect that some guys are gay, but just don’t want to deal with it publicly?

Neyer: I do think that’s the case. From what I understand, and I don’t know this to be a fact, because it’s been a while since I read anything about it, but I do think that there were people who knew that Glenn Burke was gay when he played for the Dodgers. I think there are gay ballplayers. I have no doubt about that, whatsoever, and I suspect that some of those players are either known to be gay by their teammates or are suspected to be gay. I think that it’s out there; I just don’t think people want to have to deal with what happens when you make it public. Think about all of the players who really aren’t going like you if you’re gay. They are certainly out there. I honestly believe that if a player came out, for the most part he’d be accepted by his teammates. I really think that. Would it be tough? Sure. Would there be some teammates that wouldn’t talk to the guy? Yeah. But you know what? Every clubhouse has guys that don’t get along now. It would just be a different reason not to get along. But for the most part I think they would be accepted, just like we accept gays that we know in our profession. Just like people grew to accept Jackie Robinson. Some of them didn’t like him, and didn’t go out to dinner with him, but they accepted him as a teammate. I think it would work exactly the same way in baseball with a gay player if someone gave it a chance.

BB: Someone’s going to be the Pee Wee Reese and go out and put his arm around the guy.

Neyer: That’s right. It sort of has a different connotation I suppose.

BB: Maybe he’ll squeeze his ass instead.

[Photo Credit: Lucius Beebe Memorial Library]


1 Boatzilla   ~  Jan 7, 2011 7:34 am

Great post, Alex, but shoulda, coulda been titled "Not that there's anything wrong with it." Or is that Emma's realm?

Anywho, what a fascinating topic. I remember the old Mike Piazza rumors, when he felt compelled to come out and say, "I'm not gay." I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what that comment meant. But apparently, he meant what he said.

The thought of a star player the caliber of, say, Jeter or Manny admitting he was gay. Wow. Can you imagine the media bonanza? Endless, endless....

Ya know, nearly all the J players (read: Ichiro) have GFs and wives, and though it's widely known, it's never reported. Just food for discussion.

2 BronxToCT   ~  Jan 7, 2011 8:16 am

[1] There's a wonderful and very funny play that played off-Broadway a number of years ago called "Take Me Out" about a Jeter-like player who comes out at the height of his career.

3 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 7, 2011 8:30 am

2) Actually, if you click on the link "back in 2003, Rob Neyer..." the post contains stuff about that play.

4 BronxToCT   ~  Jan 7, 2011 9:20 am

[3] Oh, yeah -- thanks. I'm curious to know if you or anyone else also saw the play -- the playwight clearly loves the game. One of the characters, I think he was a front-office guy who was also gay, goes on this incredible long riff about why he loves baseball, and it brought to mind all those reasons why I love it, too.

And good for Buckley.

5 Mattpat11   ~  Jan 7, 2011 9:24 am


6 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 7, 2011 9:39 am

I didn't see the play. Heard it was uneven.

7 Greg G   ~  Jan 7, 2011 11:29 am

My brother and I were in Balboa Park in San Diego, and we saw all these people exiting a theater. I realized when they stood around in front of it that they were waiting for the 2nd act.

I had never "2nd Acted" before, but had heard about it. Being a theater major in college, I didn't see 2nd acting as theft, and so we walked in with everyone to check out Act 2 of the play.

It turns out it was "Take me Out." We didn't even read the sign and we walked in and I told my brother to be cool, and just act normal. He turns to the guy sitting next to us and says, "What is the play about?" I'm thinking, "Real cool bro."

The guy kind of summarizes the first act, and gives a knowing smile that we didn't pay for a ticket. The curtain then opens and there are 10 guys showering with full frontal nudity. A little shocking, and I thought after that it was not really necessary for the story, but than I realized for many homo-phobic major leaguers that is probably their worst fear. Showering in the same room with a gay player.

I would also describe the play as "uneven", and it struck me as formulaic.

As to the analogy of a player coming out and Jackie Robinson. I feel it is similar. On the one hand, Jackie Robinson couldn't hide his color, but you have to give credit for someone voluntarily making the decision to stand up for what they believe in and open themselves up for what would likely be a lot of turmoil.

8 moismycopilot   ~  Jan 7, 2011 7:01 pm

I saw the play with a similarly baseball- and theater-loving friend back when it was on Broadway in 2003, and it was one of the best shows I saw that year (definitely the best baseball-related thing my buddy saw all that season--he's a Sox fan). Some of it, especially in the second act got a bit heavy-handed, but Denis O'Hare's monologue about what it was to be a baseball fan really spoke to both of us.

[1] I remember the Piazza rumors and the Belle and Sebastian song. The way he went about denying it all was a bit disappointing, but it makes sense that he felt compelled to do it, considering how religious he's said to be.

I do agree with Neyer, that it'll probably have to be a star player to break the ice, so to speak, by coming out. I just don't know that any player would want to put himself through all the media nonsense that would surely follow.

9 jorgie juiced one   ~  Jan 7, 2011 11:34 pm

Interesting in so many ways.

Alex, I recall on at least one occasion your making the point that this website is not a place for preaching, proselytizing, etc. Yet, in so far as I can tell, you are a preacher/moralizer. I really don't mean that pejoratively. It's just simply an observation. You care about right and wrong, good and evil, even if you wouldn't employ such terms. But that's exactly what you're doing - advancing your vision of the right and good and true.

The reason you most likely don't think of yourself as preaching/moralizing is because your views are so obviously right and reasonable. How could any fair minded person disagree? At least that's what comes across.

For example, with respect to this post, the celebration of Buckley's self-disclosure, as well as yours and Neyer's interview/comments, assume a host of things about knowledge itself [question: how can you be so confident that what you "know" is in fact so?], human nature, human flourishing, human sexuality, race and sexuality, human rights, the nature of desire, the "right" to be approved/affirmed, etc. Your perspective assumes what's "right" with respect to all these matters, even if entirely unselfconsciously and unreflectively. What's right in this case is certain to you and Neyer, without much room for nuance or complexity.

Do you know of any reason that someone might not endorse Buckley's actions, other than being a bigot in the same mold as Jim Crow segregationists? If you don't, then I think you might want to consider expanding the scope of your knowledge with respect to a subject you are obviously passionate about. I hope that doesn't sound condescending. That's not my intention.

For example, though not directly addressing Buckley's situation, but dealing with this societal issue more broadly, below is a recent article from the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, making a case for marriage as a male-female instituion:


I don't link to the article in order to persuade you of its rightness but simply to demonstrate that there's an argument to be had, and that there are reasons that someone might think differently than you do.

A longtime Bronx Banterite

10 The Mick536   ~  Jan 8, 2011 8:55 am

Having a little trouble with the term gay jocks, I am, but not with gays playing ball, err sports. This whole argument bores the living shit out of me. I am so tired of it, especially in VT, where we have put the issue to bed. People have inalienable rights which cannot be dependent on whom they choose to love or have sex with. And I don't know of a VALID reason why someone might not endorse Buckley's action, if you want to call it that and reading an article in a Harvard based journal doesn't change me views a bit. Who are the geniuses who wrote this dribble? Phd candidates? One guy is from Notre Dame, a cathedral to gays. As an intentionally childless happily married heterosexual man, I say do marry whom you want to marry, as long as your spouse is a person and have sex with whomever you want, with the same caveat, of course.

11 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 8, 2011 9:52 am

9) Excellent point, and I think you are correct. As much as I like to say this isn't a place for overt politics, I know mine show through in certain matters. And while I am a moral person in many ways, I also am conflicted about that part of me because I sometimes associated moralism with a narrow way of looking at the world, as if it is simply black or white, right or wrong. And that is something that I really try to move away from although it is part of my nature.

Thanks so much for the considered comment. Much obliged.

12 jorgie juiced one   ~  Jan 8, 2011 10:33 pm

11) Alex, thanks for your gracious response. Being moral is part of what makes us human. We cannot escape it, nor should we try to. Obviously, sometimes however we're not going to agree as to what that morality ought to look like.

My encouragement would simply be not only to examine other's assumptions but our own. An unmistakable reality is our morality is not only a result of individual choice and reasoned reflection, but feeling and intuition, and also shaped by social idenfitication and connections [I am a "progressive," who is friends witht those who are like-minded, therefore I am committed to x; or I am a "conservative"...], and personal commitments.

This does not mean we ought always to be agnostic or noncommmital, but simply asking, "why do I believe what I believe? how do I know what I know?"

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver