|Brendan Lemon knows firsthand the degree to which homophobia can strike fear into the hearts of professional athletes.
That's because he's dating one, he says.
Lemon, editor of Out magazine, stirred controversy last week with his May "Letter from the Editor," in which he urged his dating partner, a "pro baseball player from a major East Coast franchise" to come out of the closet.
He knows it won't be easy. He said the two have talked about going public numerous times during their 18 months together, but the reason against it always boils down to fear.
Fear of a crazed fan taking a gun and doing something extreme. Fear of rejection from family, friends and especially teammates. Fear of the circus-like spectacle going public likely would create. Fear it could bring an end to a career.
"All it takes is one crazy person at a game to take a pop at him, one guy who hates homos," Lemon said in a rare interview since the letter was published. "I'm not saying that would happen, but I've always had players tell me, 'Look, I'm a center fielder, or I'm a third baseman, they're going to throw bottles at me and everything if I come out. It's not worth it.' "
If Lemon's partner were to come out, it would be a first. No athlete in the four major pro sports has ever come out during his playing days. Glenn Burke, a former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder, publicly acknowledged his homosexuality in 1982, two years after he retired. In 1996, former San Diego Padres outfielder Billy Bean also came out. In the NFL, running back Dave Kopay and lineman Roy Simmons, both former players, are the only athletes to come out.
it takes is one crazy person at a game to take a
pop at him, one guy who hates homos. I'm not
saying that would happen, but I've always had
players tell me, 'Look, I'm a center fielder, or I'm
a third baseman, they're going to throw bottles at
me and everything if I come out. It's not worth it.' ”
||— Out editor Brendan Lemon
When sports and homosexuality have intersected, it often is in a negative manner. In April, Chicago Cubs pitcher Julian Tavarez made insensitive comments toward San Francisco's gay community. In February, Sacramento Kings guard Jason Williams yelled slurs and anti-gay remarks to a group of courtside Asian American fans. And last year, Dodger Stadium security guards ejected two women who were seen kissing in the stands.
Though the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks have decided to include the lesbian community in their marketing effort, the Sacramento Monarchs ignited controversy last year when a group of lesbian fans were told their name would not be allowed on the team's scoreboard like others in attendance. The group agreed to be change its name from the "Davis Dykes" to the "Davis Lesbians," but both names were rejected. Both sides eventually agreed on the "Davis Rainbow Womyn."
"Sports has never been an institution willing to get too far ahead of the curve," said University of Massachusetts professor Pat Griffin, author of the book "Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sports." "Its approach is that within the framework of their organization, they're not interested in being controversial or daring. They want to stay mainstream."
In recent years, a number of celebrated athletes in individual sports, including Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Greg Louganis have come out. But the homophobic environment found in the locker rooms of most team sports have driven gay athletes deep into the closet.
That is why Lemon and his partner have gone to great lengths to keep their relationship a secret.
"The person I live with is my best friend, and the fact that he hasn't been aware of this (relationship) -- and he's the person I live with and see all the time -- shows the CIA-length secrecy we've gone to," he said. "Nobody in my life -- my friends, my family, anyone knew about this before I wrote the letter."
This level of secrecy has led many people, both in and out of the gay community, to question the validity of Lemon's claims. Though he understands the accusations, he calls them "utterly false."
|Kings guard Jason Williams reportedly yelled anti-gay remarks at fans.|
"I'm a journalist myself and I understand skepticism of any story," Lemon said. "But I find that the people who sometimes don't believe this story are the ones that don't want to deal with the issues at hand."
The attention the letter has received is staggering. The subject of debate on mainstream Internet message boards to radio call-in shows, it also has been met with mixed reaction from the gay community. Some people have supported the letter, while others have chastised Lemon.
"My policy, personally and that of the magazine, is not to out anyone, by name, for the first time without their permission," Lemon said. "As to what you say and don't say otherwise, there are no rules that I'm aware of."
Lemon, who said he showed his partner a draft of the letter before it was published, is hopeful that the article will help change the need for homosexual athletes to keep their private lives secret. Whether it's his partner or another professional athlete, somebody, Lemon says, is going to come out of the closet. He hopes it will change the way people perceive homosexual athletes in society.
"I think there are reasons and indications that the climate is ready now," he said. "So many more people are aware of a brother, sister, aunt, uncle or drinking buddy who is gay. I think that translates to an acceptance of the fact that the athlete they look up to could be gay."
One has to look no further than prime-time television, where currently there are 33 homosexual characters. And not just in the backdrop. Three weeks ago, two gay men on the show "Dawson's Creek" kissed. The same happened on "Will and Grace." Recently, a similar scene occured on "Friends," when Jennifer Aniston kissed Winona Ryder.
The overall acceptance of this programming mirrors a growing acceptance in society and with advertisers.
Already, the WNBA's Seattle Storm is making plans for a pep rally similar to that of Los Angeles Sparks' event with Girl Bar, a national lesbian organization based in Los Angeles. The Miami Sol, another WNBA team, also plans on holding various events with lesbian clubs.
Outside of the WNBA, the San Francisco Giants are planning their seventh-annual AIDS Awareness Day, entitled "Until There's a Cure," in August. In July, the Minnesota Twins will welcome a gay and lesbian group from the alternative magazine "Lavender." Though the Twins say they aren't behind the event, Dave St. Peter, senior vice president for business affairs, noted the team probably wouldn't have been receptive to it five years ago.
The overall change in public opinion has trickled down to high school, where Corey Johnson, a linebacker from Masconomet High School in Massachusetts, has seen the majority of his classmates and teammates support him after he came out last year.
Professor Griffin is confident the Sparks, Storm, Twins and other sports organizations openly welcoming homosexuals to their games can only help educate people on the issues.
"I think some of the education that will take place in that context -- sitting next to each other, all rooting for the same team -- has the most positive potential," she said. "People will realize that lesbian fans don't have horns, they don't all sit on each others laps and kiss. They are just like everyone else -- there to root for their favorite basketball team."
Already, the attention drawn to Lemon's letter is telling. The fact he has been called everything from a hero to the devil has been a source of humor for Lemon and his partner.
"We were talking the other night and I said, 'Boy, I sure paved the way for you,' " Lemon said. "And he goes, 'Yes you did. Hell, at this point it's anti-climactic. You've already gotten all the f------ media attention.
"I said. 'You know what? I don't think so.' "
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
||I think there are reasons and indications that the climate is ready now," he said. "So many more people are aware of a brother, sister, aunt, uncle or drinking buddy who is gay. I think that translates to an acceptance of the fact that the athlete they look up to could be gay. ”