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MLB Must Make it Safe For Players to Come Out

By Dave Pallone
Dave Pallone, a former Major League Baseball umpire, is the author of "Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball," which will be re-released in August.

June 21, 2002

If you're out in baseball, could you really be safe? That age-old question has popped up again in the last month or so, courtesy of Bobby Valentine.

The esteemed manager of the New York Mets was interviewed for Details, and was asked if baseball is ready for an openly gay ballplayer. To paraphrase his answer, he said, "Yes."

I applaud Valentine for his comments, as well as for his open-mindedness. And I believe he is right.

But when the story hit, a lot of people thought he was speaking of one of his own players, which prompted a modern-day witch hunt. Mike Piazza's name came up. The ensuing media circus was an injustice to Piazza, the entire gay community and the general public.

Such a witch hunt is nothing less than psychological rape, and it should never be condoned by baseball or, for that matter, the rest of us. What's more, it shifted the focus from Valentine's positive remarks and took us back to the 20th century.

Ever since Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball, there have been players who are gay. There will continue to be. The question is whether they can be open about their sexual orientation and still play the game without fear of being traded or abused or ostracized by their teammates and the fans.

The answer to these questions is an emphatic yes.

While this might be a surprise to most fans, the majority of athletes know which of their teammates are gay, and they don't care. They care about winning and about how their teammates - gay or straight - play the game. While there will always be bigots in the game of baseball, most of the players accept their teammates. Players these days are far more sophisticated and educated than their predecessors, and they realize that someone's sexual orientation has nothing to do with how the game is played.

Owners, for their part, think about the business side of it. If one of the players happened to be a star - and, yes, there are gay stars - who hit 50 home runs or won 20 games a year, do you think his team's owner would trade him? No way. Skeptics will say, "But what about the average or less-than-average player?" But these guys are in danger of being traded regardless of their sexuality.

As for the fans, yes, many of them would give an openly gay player a hard time. But when don't they give players a hard time? That's part of the game and always will be.

Finally, there's the media frenzy that will ensue when a player decides to come out. The press will jump on the story as the player goes through the league for the first time, but then it'll become old news.

The fact is, there isn't an athlete out there who checks his or her sexual orientation at the player's entrance. All athletes have things that they deal with in their personal lives on a daily basis, and for some of them, that includes their sexual orientation.

But because of homophobia in the game of baseball and outside of it, gay players have been forced to live double lives. Only others who have lived in the closet will understand the struggles gay athletes go through. Constantly lying about who you are takes on its own life, and the stigma on homosexuality makes it even harder. The players, as well as the umpires, general managers and managers who happen to be gay, need to realize that once the first step is made, the stigma - and for that matter, the witch hunt - will go away, and the story will be dead.

Bobby Valentine's comments are a good first step. Now, baseball needs to follow his lead and take a stand. Owners and managers must make it known that they will emphatically support an athlete who wants to come out. They'll be proud of who he is and the accomplishments he's made, regardless of his sexual orientation.

Copyright 2002, Newsday, Inc.


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