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Baseball's toughest 'out'

Page 2

Letter to the editor of Out magazine, Brendan Lemon:

It won't be nearly as easy as your letter makes it sound.

Billy Bean
Billy Bean, who played for the Tigers, Padres and Dodgers in a six-year major-league career, says it would be "professional suicide" for a gay player to come out.
This might be 2001, but many clubhouse calendars are stuck firmly in 1957. Sports often are at the leading edge of societal change, but trust me, not on the issue of homosexuality. Athletes might be quite willing to accept a kiss between Jennifer Aniston and Winona Ryder on "Friends," but that isn't the same thing as being ready to accept a gay teammate.

A gay player who comes out will deal with obstacles far more serious than merely "a teammate or two who'd have an adolescent 'Oh, my God, he saw me naked in the showers' response,' " as you write in the current issue of Out.

Players can cheat on their wives and sleep with three women the night before the game and not only will teammates not care, they'll even ask for the explicit details, along with the photos. So if a player said he was gay, there are many teammates who wouldn't care as long as he hit .300 or won 20 games or could otherwise help them win the pennant. There also would be teammates who would actively support him.

But don't kid yourself. Many teammates will care deeply that he's gay. And they're the ones who will make life very difficult and a career even more so. Especially if that player is hitting .240 or has a losing record and management is a little skittish about clubhouse "morale" and those letters from outraged fans piling up in the mailroom.

Playing in the majors is difficult enough, it will be grueling for a player who endures the constant ugly jeers from fans, the hate mail, the physical threats, the animosity from teammates and the resentment of management.

There is a reason, after all, that Billy Bean waited until after his career to acknowledge his homosexuality. Bean told the New York Daily News it would be "professional suicide" for a gay player to come out during his career.

You even acknowledged the dangers in an interview with, saying, "All it takes is one crazy person to take a pop at him, one guy who hates homos."

  It will take someone with the strength of Jackie Robinson to come out while still playing, because that's the sort of abuse he'll endure. 

I understand what you're saying in your letter, but I also understand why gay athletes do not reveal their sexual preference. And I don't blame them. It will take someone with the strength of Jackie Robinson to come out while still playing, because that's the sort of abuse he'll endure.

It must be tough enough for many gays to come out when they need "only" be concerned with the reaction of family and friends. But for a player to do so? It will be national news, the subject of talk shows and articles for weeks and months. He not only will have to deal with it at home but every road trip he takes for years.

Remember. Roger Maris lost his hair just from the pressure of chasing a home-run record.

That said, I hope someone eventually does have the strength to come out, someone who thinks it is worth the grief to show there are gays in sports just as there are gays everywhere else and that it doesn't matter. Progress is never achieved without a price, and we would not have had the integration of sports, education or society without the courage of a few pioneers.

But let's not kid ourselves about what it will be like for the person brave enough to do so.

Jim Caple is a senior writer at

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 The editor of Out magazine Brendan Lemon talks about his recent article about his affair with a baseball player on the East Coast.
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