Gay Sports Columnist Comes Out
The reputedly homophobic realm of sports has shown recent signs of becoming less gay-unfriendly, but it’s still an extreme rarity for a gay athlete to come out of the closet prior to retirement. Much the same is true of others associated with sports--coaches, commentators, and sports columnists.
But a member of the latter category took that courageous step, publicly disclosing that he was gay in a Jan. 6 newspaper column. In a piece titled Welcome to My Coming-Out Party, Steve Buckley, a sports writer for daily tabloid the Boston Herald, recounted how his mother encouraged him seven years ago to go public with the announcement he yearned to make, after having previously counseled him to keep his private life to himself. But before Buckley could act on her advice, his mother died.
Now, seven years later, Buckley has chosen to forge ahead--and out of the closet. The columnist wrote that he had "put this off long enough. I haven’t been fair to my family, my friends or my co-workers. And I certainly haven’t been fair to myself: For too many years I’ve been on the sidelines of Boston’s gay community but not in the game - figuratively and literally, as I feel I would have had a pretty good career in the (gay) Beantown Softball League."
Buckley went on to write that he had heard of cases in which gay people who had been outed committed suicide. "These tragic events helped guide me to the belief that if more people are able to be honest about who they are, ultimately fewer people will feel such devastating pressure," he wrote.
Buckley was immediately embraced by sports figures, his colleagues at the Herald, and the public at large. A Jan. 7 Boston Herald article praised Buckley’s column as "moving" and "courageous," but also noted that there was some concern as to how homophobic athletes might react.
Moreover, the article acknowledged that the sports writer, who is a frequent guest on a local sports radio program called the Big Show, might encounter homophobic humor from callers and from Big Show host Glenn Ordway.
Ordway, who devoted his entire four-hour Jan. 6 broadcast to Buckley’s news, claimed the title of "equal-opportunity basher" for himself, and said that the news wouldn’t change anything. "We were still busting his chops during the course of his show," said the radio host." Big deal - he’s gay."
But Ordway expressed the worry that athletes might use Buckley’s disclosure against him. "My gut feeling is, you’re probably going to get some immature, young player somewhere down the line" who might try to "get back at Buckley and call him a name or something like that" if Buckley writes unfavorably about him.
"He’s on the frontlines down at Foxborough," the Massachusetts town that is home to Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots, said fellow Boston Herald sportswriter and commentator Gerry Callahan, the New York Daily News reported on Jan. 6.. "He’s in the locker room, he’s dealing with fans. He’s gonna be out there in the open and it’s not gonna be easy for him. And he knows it. He knows it and I’m sure that’s why he was reluctant all those years."
The Daily News recalled that in 2007, Los Angeles Times sports writer Mike Penner revealed that she was transgendered. Penner went on to write under the name Christine Daniels, but two years later she killed herself.
Still, the article said, the response had been huge--and supportive. The owner of the New England Patriots and several athletes and others affiliated with the Boston Red Sox, including Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, had extended their good wishes to Buckley after his announcement.
The sporting world has historically been unkind to openly gay active players, though straight players have recently begun speaking up to encourage a change in the culture. In November, Bayern Munich star Mario Gomez, 25, said that coming out of the closet would make for better athletes on the field. "They would play as if they had been liberated," Gomez opined. "Being gay should no longer be a taboo topic."
British newspaper the Guardian noted in an Oct. 11 article that the young star’s exhortation defied the received wisdom; the German Football Federation has said that gay players who own up could see their professional lives come to an abrupt end.
That was the fate of Marcus Urban, a German player who came out to his teammates in 1997 and promptly lost his status as a professional athlete. Urban did not publicly disclose the reason for his career’s end until ten years later.
But times have changed, and Gomez argued that being gay is no longer a big deal, pointing to openly gay leading political figures Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s vice chancellor, and Klaus Wowereit, the mayor of Berlin. "[P]rofessional footballers should own up to their preference," Gomez said.
At the moment, none have; the Guardian noted that there are no openly gay players in the German soccer league. Even though political life may have become more accepting, athletes still say that gay players who come out would regret it--not because of their teammates’ reactions, necessarily, but due to what German player Tim Wiese referred to, in an interview from earlier this year, as "merciless fans" who would "destroy" any gay player who dared to disclose his true sexuality.
Meantime, the Deutscher Fußball-Bund ("German Football [Soccer] League," or DFB) declared its support for any player who might come out--while advising against it. Said the head of the DFB, Theo Zwanziger, "The first homosexual who outs himself in professional [soccer] will not have an easy time of it. I had thought it would not be the case, because in politics, art and culture it is no longer a problem. Even amateur [soccer] deals with it better, but professional [soccer] appears to be more set in its ways."
Slowly, however, pressure from an increasingly accepting popular culture may change that, in soccer and in other sports. Last month, the head of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) called the wrath of fans and sports figures down on his head when he joked that gay soccer fans headed to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup would be wel advised not to engage in sex in the predominantly Muslim country.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter later apologized for the remark, but not before he took a shellacking in the press. Openly gay retired NBA athlete John Amaeche slammed Blatter’s comment, saying, "The position adopted regarding LGBT fans who would pay the enormous ticket and travel prices to attend the World Cup in 2022 should have been wholly unacceptable a decade ago. Instead, with little more than an afterthought, FIFA has endorsed the marginalization of LGBT people around the world.
"Anything less than a full reversal of his position is unacceptable and if the FA and football and sporting associations around the world fail to acknowledge this insult, they too will be complicit," added Amaeche. "If sport can not serve to change society, even temporarily during the duration of an event like the World Cup that invites the world to participate, then it is little more than grown men chasing a ball and we should treat it as such." Amaeche also pointed to GLBT youth as a population vulnerable to anti-gay commentary, even if made in jest.