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.”
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]