Are you a professional baseball player who slaps teammates on the ass — and means it? Are you a professional basketball player who showers with teammates — and offers to wash their backs? Are you a professional football player who reviews game plays with teammates — and interprets those criss-crossed Xs and Os somewhat differently? Then America needs you! To come out!
Good for all those gay rights organizations, from Gay Inc. to the grassroots, motivating everyone to run down to Washington D.C. or call your legislator. But none of you could accomplish what an openly gay professional athlete could do with a single Sports Illustrated coming out cover. (Or, for that matter, Broadway’s Take Me Out. But we’re just sayin’.)
Getting paid millions of dollars a year for being a professional closet case means you’re not doing your civic duty, and the situation needs to be rectified, yo!
It has sportswriter Jeff Pearlman calling for you homos in the dugout to take your bunting and jock itch to the heartland, and show fans and followers that their sports heroes just might be pitchers and catchers. (Oh, the terrible puns we could continue with.)
People fear the idea of gay teachers and gay neighbors; literally fear catching “The Gay”—as if it were a strand of swine flu. This is especially true in the sheltered world of professional baseball, where most competitors have devoted their lives to the singular, non-thought-provoking tasks of seeing-ball, throwing-ball, hitting-ball, catching-ball. The major leagues are the domain of Maxim and strip clubs; of long-legged, large-breasted girlfriends and “Check out the blonde eight rows up …” mid-game commentaries. In the mid-1990s, an American League superstar confided in a small number of peers that he was gay, but insisted the information never be released. His reason? Fear of banishment. “Baseball just doesn’t lend itself to accepting gays,” says Billy Bean, the former major league journeyman who came out of the closet after retiring. “There’s very little empathy for people like me.”
Indeed, it has been 10 years since [former MLB athlete Billy] Bean announced that he was gay, and any initial hopes of change within the sport have been largely dashed. Bean has waited and waited and waited for an active player to stand up and say, “I’m a homosexual. So what?” but he no longer holds his breath. “There’s just so much to lose,” he says. “Your contract, your teammates’ trust, your place. Do I wish I came out when I was active? Yes, I do. But I wanted to be accepted, just like everyone else. Who would have accepted me if they knew I was gay?”
Yet here’s the mild shocker: In the aftermath of Bean’s announcement, a handful of high-profile big leaguers—Trevor Hoffman and Brad Ausmus among them—not only embraced Bean’s words, but spoke out on his behalf. “It wouldn’t have made a difference to me [when we were teammates],” said Ausmus, “and it doesn’t bother me now.” Brian Johnson, Bean’s Triple A roommate and a future Padres catcher, called his old chum and said, “I wish you had told me back then. I would have supported you 100 percent.”
Now, a decade after Bean’s courageous step, the time is at hand. You have the opportunity to be more than a ballplayer; more than just another blah notation buried deep within the pages of the Baseball Encyclopedia. For every 10,000 Bill Brutons and Joe Sambitos, there’s a Curt Flood. For every 10,000 Paul Blairs and Jack Clarks, there’s a Robinson.
Just be sure you’ve healthily invested all those contract dollars, because they’re about to stop flowing. Now everyone together: “Take me out to the ball game, take me to the crowd …”