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Outside the Lines:
The Gay Dilemma


Here's the transcript from Show 62 of Outside The Lines - The Gay Dilemma

Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Reported by: Lisa Salters, ESPN.
Guests: Billy Bean, former major league player; Dave Pallone, former major league umpire; Brendan Lemon, editor in chief, Out Magazine.

Announcer - June 3, 2001.

Bob Ley, host - No American gay male pro team athlete has ever come out during his career. Were such an athlete to consider it...

Steve Karsay, Cleveland Indians pitcher - You're going to have to endure the consequences - of what the media is going to say, how you are going to be scrutinized, how you are going to be looked at upon each and every stadium, each and every city that you go to.

Ley - This journalist wrote of his current affair with a major league ball player.

Brendan Lemon, "Out" Magazine - I'm very aware that someone's career is in the balance here.

Ley - Yet some pro teams now market specifically to gay fans.

Howard Buford, President and CEO, Prime Access - I'd be much more concerned with a bunch of rowdy drunks throwing bottles and spilling beer, you know, on the people in front of them, then a lesbian couple enjoying the game.

Unidentified Female - It's not about one's sexuality.

Ley - Today on Outside The Lines - Are American pro teams ready to come out?

Ley - It's not dignified nor enlightened, but there is a guessing game among many sports fans these days, on the identity of the major league baseball player said to be having an affair with the editor of a gay magazine. Certainly, that's evidence that attitudes in sports towards homosexuality have not changed that much in the two and a half years since Outside The Lines first examined the world of the gay athlete. Sports has often been a leader in social change, but not on this topic. Gay athletes face the dilemma of deciding whether the time is right to come out.

Even as teams, including this year's surprise in the major leagues, matter of factly do business in the gay community. We commissioned a national scientific survey to determine the attitudes of sports fans on these matters. You may be surprised at the findings. We'll be presenting them throughout this morning's program. The ultimate fan focus group, however, is found at the turnstile.

And there, whether athletes come out or not, Lisa Salters reports that sexual preference is a factor as teams fight for the fan dollar.

Debbie Black, Miami Sol - I don't care who's out there cheering for us, I'm just glad that there is someone supporting us.

Lisa Salters, ESPN correspondent - For Debbie Black and other members of the Miami Sol, generating that kind of support in the now five-year old WNBA sometimes means showing up at nightclubs, lesbian night clubs.

Carol Moran, co-founder, Kicke Sports Bar, Miami - We've just had two promotions in the last couple of months with the Sol players here. They realize, you know what, gays and lesbians have got dollars. They enjoy the sport; why not go after them and market them and get their dollars?

Black - They're supporting us, they're buying season tickets, they are excited to talk with us. It's not a problem at all.

Salters - While it is no secret that the majority of the WNBA's fan base is made up of women, never before in the league's short history have individual teams targeted the lesbian market so aggressively. In Los Angeles, the Sparks have joined forces with a lesbian social club known as Girl Bar.

Team president Johnny Buss had been reluctant to market to L.A.'s lesbian community. But just last month, the team showed up for a pep rally at a gay nightclub.

It's a groundbreaking marketing alliance that was rejected by the Sparks a few years ago.

Sandy Sachs, co-founder, Girl Bar, Los Angeles - I had a friend who was actually working with the organization and I approached her and said, you know, hey, think we could do -- I don't know -- some sort of cross promoting. You know, I think it would be good. I'm sure a lot of our customers would attend the games, so on and so forth. And she told me, she said, don't even bother. There is no way; there is no way that is going to happen. They just, you know, they don't -- they wouldn't consider tapping into the lesbian community as such.

Joseph McCormack, Vice President and CFO, L.A. Sparks/Lakers - As we're entering our fifth year, you know, we maybe have gotten a little smarter about how to reach out and identify who our basketball fans are. Whether they are a youth basketball team in the inner city, or a family organization out in the suburbs. Or, you know, or a lesbian social group.

Salters - But sports is a bottom line business, that must concern itself with bringing in corporate dollars. So while teams may want to break new ground and be inclusive, they have to be sure that their sponsors want to be included.

Gary Cavalli, former WABL commissioner - We definitely lost some sponsors because of this issue.

Salters - Gary Cavalli was the commissioner of the now defunct Women's American Basketball League. His league folded in the middle of its third year, when funds dried up. Cavalli says the ABL targeted the lesbian community but was met with deep-rooted resistance.

Cavalli - We had a couple of sponsors in one of our Eastern markets that pulled out specifically because of this issue. I'm sitting in a room with a guy, and this is 1997 or 1998, and there are a couple of off-color remarks, a couple of racial jokes. And then later they gave us some lame excuse, but we knew what the real reason was. And I think it's really discouraging that we're still battling that kind of thing.

Salters - It's a battle more teams may now be willing to fight, according to Howard Buford, a New York advertising executive. His clients are Fortune 500 companies that are trying to tap into gay and lesbian markets. He says gay households have fewer children, resulting in more disposable income.

Buford - I think it is part of an actual progression we've seen over the last five years of marketers in general. I think, as time goes on you are going to see more men's teams that they are marketing directly to the gay market. Because there is a big opportunity there.

Salters - In fact, one of baseball's hottest teams, the Minnesota Twins, will explore the opportunity. Next month, the Twins, who for years have suffered with lackluster attendance, are scheduled to recognize a gay and lesbian group outing, organized by an alternative magazine.

Dave St. Peter, Sr. Vice President of Business Affairs, Minnesota Twins - This isn't about gay and lesbian, it's about baseball fans. And we're in the business if promoting our game, and that means that we need to be proactive and progressive. And making our games as accessible to as many different people as possible.

Salters - But will fans play along? In the Outside The Lines poll, sports fans were asked, "If your local professional sports team ran a specific game promotion targeted to the gay and lesbian community, how would that effect your decision whether to attend that game?" More than 40 percent said they were less likely to attend the game.

Buford - I think there is always a chance that there are homophobic fans who would react negatively to any kind of gay marketing of sports events and sports teams. I think you can almost think of it the way we thought of Jackie Robinson in the major leagues. I'm sure there were people then who would have thought negatively about African-Americans being in the stands.

Salters - While Jackie Robinson changed the landscape of sports, he also changed attitudes. As pro teams continue to search for new ways to put fans in the stands, today's more inclusive marketing also has the potential to do both.

Cavalli - You want to welcome, in fact you want to embrace, any potential fans for your teams. If at the same time, you can promote harmony and understanding and acceptance of different lifestyles, so much the better. I don't think you start out trying to make a social statement or effect social change. But sometimes you can.

Ley - But there is resistance to teams that market specifically to the gay and lesbian community. In our scientific poll, we asked how fan attitudes would be effected if their favorite pro team did do such marketing, and nearly 30 percent of fans surveyed said they would turn against a team or be less a fan if that team did specifically try to attract gay and lesbian fans.

Ahead this morning, I'll speak with two men with a special understanding of these issues, former major leaguer Billy Bean and former major league umpire Dave Pallone.

Next, my conversation with journalist Brendan Lemon, who writes of his year and a half affair with a major league baseball player, and his desire that his friend come out of the closet.

Ley - The latest issue in the gay dilemma is Brendan Lemon's recent piece in "Out" magazine. Lemon described his lover as a pro baseball player from an East Coast franchise, a recognizable media figure, saying that his coming out would lessen his friend's psychic burden, and be met with support from his team. Several days ago, I spoke with Lemon at his Manhattan office.

Ley - There are those who would say you are naive, that you really don't have an understanding of the dynamic in a modern major league clubhouse.

Lemon - I think it's absolutely true that I've never been a pro team sports player and I've certainly never been a pro baseball player. So, there's a sense in which, I suppose, there's been a little bit of naivete on my part. In fact, one of the things that I've learned from the response to my letter, has been concentrated in that area. In that, perhaps I underestimated the expectance, the tolerance level of some athletes in the clubhouses.

Ley - Your boyfriend knew you were writing this letter.

Lemon - Yes, he did.

Ley - What was his reaction when you -- I mean he read it before you published it.

Lemon - Right. Well, you have to realize that we've been talking about this issue, about his struggle and isolation about being gay, and about whether he should come out, for a year and a half -- ever since I've known him. And so nothing that I was going to bring up in writing about it in whatever form, I think, was going to be a surprise to him. Because we've been over those subjects so much before I decided I wanted to write about it for "Out." So, I don't think there was anything in that letter that surprised him.

Ley - Was he edging in that direction? There are some people that say you were trying almost to out him. Not outing him by name, but certainly you have delineated -- you know, he's an East Coast ball player. You've started a parlor game in this country.

Lemon - Right. No, I accept the fact that in order to jump start the discussion, the debate around this issue, that, you know, I provided a couple of details about this player that would jump start that discussion. And I think, tried to be clear that I wrote that letter with that in mind. And if I'd written something that simply said, hey, you know I'm dating a pro athlete. You know, probably that wouldn't have jump-started the national debate.

Ley - There has been some thought about the issue, but there are people going to games saying, gee, which one is it. Sports-talk radio, Internet Web sites, names are out there, speculation which may in many cases be unfair. Do you feel somewhat responsible for starting some of that?

Lemon - I don't really, let me tell you why, two reasons. First of all, there is always a guessing game, a speculation game that goes on among public figures. But I think the deeper issue here, and one which I didn't really get into in the "Out" magazine article. But I think it is much more to the point. Which is, some people who have criticized me for fostering a guessing game and maybe creating a little bit of a suspicion or climate of fear in certain clubhouses about teammates wondering if other teammates are gay; propose that as if the climate of fear for a gay player in the clubhouse wasn't already there.

Ley - You know, there are some people that say this is a hoax.

Lemon - I've heard that.

Ley - To which you say?

Lemon - I've -- well two things. One, I've been writing about this in our magazine and speaking about it truthfully for, you know, more than two weeks now. And secondly, I think, that skepticism about a story like this I completely understand. Because, I'm a journalist myself, and my first response to many stories is to be skeptical.

So I think that's a healthy impulse. I also think that some of the skepticism about this particular story has come from people who don't want to believe, still in this day and age, that there are gay, established -- let alone, you know, excellent -- players in, say, a baseball clubhouse for team sports. And by casting aspersions, or casting doubt on my story, I think for some of them -- not all -- is a way for them to not want to talk about the issue.

Ley - What do you make of the fact that you have to walk on such verbal eggshells, and people are trying to deconstruct everything you say, down to what hat you wear when you go out here in Manhattan.

Lemon - Sure. You know, when a story and a debate takes off and it involves an element of the unknown, I think there is always going to be, you know, some part of that element of the unknown that piques people's curiosity. And therefore, you know, leads the person who is the holder of the secret, which in this case just happens to be me, to maybe have to be a little careful. Because, after all, someone's career could hang in the balance. And although, you know, I was interested in fostering this discussion, I'm very aware that someone's career is in the balance here.

Ley - Just last night, one of our producers went up to some players on the field before the game, a major league game. Explained that we wanted to ask some questions about the general aspects of whether a player could come out, what the attitude would be. And to a man, all the players on this particular team declined to talk about it, didn't want to talk about it on camera. Yet, without the camera rolling, off the record, were quite willing to engage our producer in the guessing game.

Lemon - Sure, sure.

Ley - So, if there's a dialogue, it is certainly -- at least on this particular team -- it doesn't seem to exist at all.

Lemon - Well, unfortunately I think the fact that they won't go on the record and talk about this subject just speaks to the climate of fear and negativity about the issue that still exists in a lot of clubhouses. I can understand why those players don't want to talk about it on camera. But I have a lot more sympathy for the closeted players who are dealing with that as a real life issue, rather than as something that is, you know, a question that they are being asked this week by broadcasters.

Ley - Brendan Lemon of "Out" magazine.

Now, in our poll we did ask fans, if a player on their favorite pro team did come out, how would that effect their attitude toward that player. And less than 18 percent said they would turn against the player. Nearly 63 percent said their attitude would be unchanged. However, when we asked fans to anticipate the reactions of others if a major league player announced he was gay, over two-thirds surveyed said fans would turn against a gay player.

Next, I'll speak with former major league player Billy Bean, and also with former major league umpire Dave Pallone, as we consider the atmosphere of a player could indeed come out.

Karsay - I'm sure there are many guys who would feel uncomfortable maybe with somebody in the clubhouse walking around, knowing that they were -- their sexual preference was men.

Ley - That's Cleveland's Steve Karsay, one of the small number of athletes willing to comment on the record on the scenario of an active player coming out.

Joining us this morning, Billy Bean, a six-year major league veteran, who four years ago, after he left the game publicly disclosed that he is gay. He's on Long Island. And Dave Pallone, who spent nine years umpiring in the National League. He was outed in 1988; and Dave joins us from Colorado Springs.

I know you have slightly different opinions, guys, on this one. Beginning, though, with you, Billy, if I could, whether you think Steve Karsay's observation still holds in your mind?

Billy Bean, former baseball player - Absolutely. I mean, he's just -- it's kind of like a cushion too, Bob. Where a player has to be very careful about what the other players think about him. And the main goal when someone gets to the big leagues is respect of his peers. Whether it's his ability, his character, usually if you are a great player, all the other stuff kind of falls in line.

But if you are going out on a tangent with some kind of idea that you want to make an effort to support something that seems so foreign, then they're going to point the finger at you and say, what's up with you? Why do you care? Because if you did care, there must be a reason. And it's just a really concentrated form of peer pressure, and there was a few guys that I played with who said some really great things about me, just that I was one of the guys. And I was really moved that they had the confidence to -- in print -- to even comment on the subject. And I think...

Ley - But it was struggle for you to be one of the guys, wasn't it, a great internal struggle?

Bean - Well, it was. I kind of, you know, over a 10-year period really learned how to separate it. And I think that that's what every player who happens to be a homosexual male in the major leagues right now has to find a way to do. Because it is about business; it's not about getting along with your teammates. Because the minute your statistics start to fall, you're gone. You're sent down, you're traded, or you're out of baseball.

So, your focus is on sports. It's not on, you know, what the other guys look like, you know, what your preferences are. And I think a lot of people really, they go to that lowest common denominator and think that just because a person is a homosexual, he is all about sex, and not that he is a human being; and he has a job to do and he has an opportunity to make a tremendous amount of money and achieve a lifetime's work in a very short window of time.

Ley - So bottom line, you don't think the time could be right just now. Dave, do you think the time ...

Dave Pallone, former umpire - Bob, I think the time is right. I think one of the things we have to remember -- remember when President Truman was integrating the military. He says, it's right and everyone has to be ready.

And I think the majority of Americans are ready for this. And I think what we saw in your piece before about the players not wanting to talk on camera. But off the record, in my mind, I think they know who their fellow athletes are who are gay. And they really don't care. They care about winning. Billy can speak to this better than I, but they care about winning.

Bean - Right. I...

Pallone - And I think it is important for everyone to understand that they care about winning, and that's all they want to do.

Ley - Well, they care about winning, but again, they were willing to engage in the so-called guessing game which gets back to whether the current debate is a fruitful one, because people are guessing names. Is it addressing the bigger issue, that both you guys want to address?

Bean - Bob, the players care about being successful on the field. OK, the Yankees traded or changed eight or nine roster spots after each world championship. They want to win, that's a public statement. But you ask any player off the record, they care about keeping their career alive, and making money. And believe me, a person is not going to go around telling his teammates that he is a gay man and please hold your secret for me. OK, it's not going to happen.

Pallone - But I also think that -- I think there are players on a team that know who their fellow athletes are that are gay. I don't think they all know, but I think that they do know. And I think I agree with one thing that Billy is saying is the fact that it is the money-making. A player needs to have their career, I understand that.

But one of the things that I truly feel is that they have to come to terms with how good a player they could be if they finally do come out. And I truly believe that fans are not going to walk away from whether it be a major star, or a star that is just a little below a major star. I think that they will still want to cheer on their player.

Bean - No, I think you should identify an example. Look at what Alex Rodriguez is going through, or Ken Griffey, Jr. has gone through in the last -- two years ago he was everyone's A-list, the most popular player, best player in the game. And he decides he wants to play for his hometown team. And then, on a report that you guys did a couple of weeks ago, he's talked about death threats that he's received over the last year and a half because he didn't live up to the fans ideal, or make everyone happy. And Alex Rodriguez...

Ley - ... attitudes.

Pallone - But what about...

Bean - I think that it exemplifies exactly that this culture, we want to, you know -- I separate and isolate people in a negative way. It's like we feel better about ourselves. And we would be taking the gift that this player has as an athlete away from him, by pushing him out there and trying to force him to come out to make the rest of the gay and lesbian community feel better.

Pallone - Bob, when are we going to be ready? I mean, we were ready for -- everyone said that we weren't ready for Jackie Robinson and now without the African American ball player, what would baseball be like? So my point, my point being...

Bean - But I...

Pallone - ... that although we're talking about two different things. I realize I'm not trying to compare my sexual orientation with anyone's ethnicity, but I think it's very important to understand that we, as Americans, were told that we weren't ready for the African-American to play major league baseball. We're past that. We have to be ready, so I think that it's time for one of us to really step, you know, no pun intended, step up to the plate, and make it happen.

Ley - Billy.

Bean - I think that we are making progress, Dave, and I think that there's a lot of things you see. There's a kid named Corey Johnson who came out in high school football. The young generation now, there's kind of more of a cross acceptance...

Pallone - But there's a...

Bean - ...and I think that you're asking...

Pallone - ... and what's the but?

Bean - The but is that in professional major league sports, in trying to sell a package to what we saw in the last election, a conservative country, for the most part, and they're going to be afraid to take a chance. It's something about its dollars and cents and it's not.

Pallone - And Billy, I agree with you, Billy, and that's what my question was before. My question is I think America is definitely ready. But the question is, is major league baseball ready, is the commissioner ready and are the owners ready? They're the ones that are going to have to make the big change. The Minnesota Twins as an organization are ready because they're going to promote the game for the lesbian and gay community.

Bean - Listen, in 1993, I played in San Francisco when I was with the Padres. They had a, you know, AIDS awareness day. I mean, it's not the first time. They're addressing their fan base and that's the job of an organization and it's great.

Pallone - And that's the bottom line.

Bean - It's very important, absolutely. But I'm telling you, the first organization, I think we have to be examples in the right place and time. In individual sports, it's starting to become less of an issue or less important and the fact is I think the baseball fan base is the most conservative. You'd see football fans, you know, identified as crazy and rowdy, but the baseball fan is always dad...

Ley - As always.

Bean - ... and his son, you know.

Ley - I wish we had more time, guys. Thank you so much. Billy Bean, Dave Pallone, best of luck to both of you. Thanks for joining us this morning.

Bean - Thanks, Bob.

Pallone - Thank you.

Ley - Next, how to learn more on this topic at, as we continue.

Ley - Last Sunday, high schoolers leaping to be NBA provoked some opinionated and thoughtful e-mail from District Heights, Maryland -"I agree that in terms of personal development, skipping college is not in the best interest of 90 percent of the players. The question is who should make that call. If we as the general society decided we should, in the form of an age minimum, we would essentially be trying to legislate judgment. And the last time that I checked, it hasn't worked very well and it tempted with morality."

From Columbia, Maryland - "Your show harped on the individuals maturation factors integration into a different type of lifestyle. However, I feel that these socioeconomic labels that are portrayed on the African American athlete seem unfair and biased. Individuals have the right to aspire to do anything they choose. They don't need to be continuing to have a narrow-minded viewpoint of the media and society dictate the decisions they make."

The key word to type at, OTL Weekly, it'll access our site for more on today's topic. Also, with a link to the complete transcript of the 1998 Outside the Line program, "The World of the Gay Athlete," our site has complete streaming video and transcripts of all Sunday morning programs and we welcome your e-mail, as always, at

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