Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Closeted Bylines: Gay Sportswriters Are Plagued by the Same Fear as Gay Athletes: If They Come out of the Closet, It Could Kill Their Game

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Closeted Bylines: Gay Sportswriters Are Plagued by the Same Fear as Gay Athletes: If They Come out of the Closet, It Could Kill Their Game

Article excerpt

For the respected sports columnist of a Southern newspaper, the decision to stay in the closet was made while he was standing at a Manhattan pay phone. Only minutes earlier the writer had been asked a decidedly loaded question, one that had never been posed to him before: "Will you go on the record about being a gay sportswriter?" Unsure at first, the sports columnist paused and asked himself countless rhetorical questions, none of which he could answer.

The writer, who is in his mid 30s, doesn't have problems acknowledging his homosexuality in just about any other context, but the world of mainstream sports is a different beast entirely. He insists that he wants to use his name, and he knows that it would hardly come as an earth-shattering surprise if he did. His editor already knows, as do many of his coworkers and some colleagues in the sportswriting community. But there are plenty of people who don't know, and they are the ones whom he depends on the most.

They are his Southern readers, many of whom hold deep religious beliefs. They laugh at his humor and admire his way with words, but would they even pick up the paper if they knew about his sexual orientation? "I see what's said on a daily basis on our editorial pages, and I really have to wonder," he says.

They are his peers in the sportswriting business, writers and editors who could interfere with his future career. "The traditional idea of the drinking, womanizing sportswriter still exists to some extent," he says, "and I'm not sure how they would feel about an openly gay man in the boys' club."

And they are the athletes he covers, athletes whom San Francisco Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler, once a sports column writer, calls "some of the most childish, unenlightened people you will ever come across."

These are the same concerns that keep another sportswriter, this one at a major metropolitan newspaper, from discussing his homosexuality on the record. "Part of me wants to do it, but part of me thinks I can only be hurt by doing it," he says.

And they are the same concerns, it seems, that have contributed to the startling inability of those in professional sports--and the journalists who cover them--to mirror the rest of society: No current professional male basketball, baseball, hockey, or football player has publicly acknowledged his homosexuality, and the same is true for male coaches, managers, and general managers.

"It's like every person working in and around team sports today, everyone who has to go into the locker room, is just waiting by the edge of file water, waiting for someone else to jump in first," the Southern writer says. "The problem is, no one knows how hot the water is. Part of me thinks that if I used my name, hardly anyone would care. Another part of me thinks it could hurt me and I could be cut off from people I need to deal with in my job. I just don't know what to do."

At least three sports editors have already made their decisions. Two are openly gay men: Jim Buzinski, sports editor of the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, Calif., and Dan Wine, assistant sports editor of the Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C. And one is an out lesbian: Holly Woolard, sports editor of the Marin Independent Journal in Novato, Calif.

But the unifying factor among these three journalists is that they are editors, so they aren't required to develop close ties with athletes or enter the locker room. When many female sportswriters first sought to gain acceptance in the 1970s and early '80s, athletes reacted in a variety of ways, from tolerance to avoidance to outward hostility. …

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