National Columnist

Why don't men come out in pro sports? Escobar's gay slur is a good place to start

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Escobar's offensive message on his eye-back is a black eye for baseball. (Getty Images)  
Escobar's offensive message on his eye-back is a black eye for baseball. (Getty Images)  

Former Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy waited until long after he sold the franchise before telling anyone but friends and family: He's gay. Why would McClatchy keep that a secret through 11 years as owner of the Pirates? Well, in another news item from last week, Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended three games for writing a gay slur into his eye-black.

Those items are unrelated in the most basic sense. Literally, Escobar's homosexual slur had nothing to do with McClatchy's secret. Figuratively? They are intertwined, because Escobar's public slur -- combined with McClatchy's hidden homosexuality -- demonstrates that professional team sports still can't go where marriage, the military and the pulpit have gone.

The homosexuality debate
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Pro sports? No gays allowed.

That's the message Escobar's Spanish slur sent, even if it's not the message he intended. Escobar said he didn't mean anything malicious by writing a gay slur in his eye-black, and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt: He didn't intend to offend anyone.

That doesn't change the fact that he did offend people -- me, for starters. No, I'm not gay, and I don't say that defensively, just factually. I suspect on the message board below this story, more than a few people will question my sexuality, and do it in a way they think would hurt my feelings. Well, it won't. Calling me "gay" is no different than calling me "woman" or "Hispanic." It wouldn't be an insult; it would be incorrect.

Anyway, Escobar offended me -- and lots of people like me -- when he wrote that slur into his eye-black. He offended gay people, too. I know, because some of my best friends are gay, and not in that vague sense that people like Escobar tend to say, "Some of my best friends are gay."

Not like that, no. Some of my best friends are gay. I've been to their weddings. Been to their funerals. Slept in their houses, and had them sleep in mine. That's what friends do. Friends also hurt for each other when someone does something as hurtful, intentionally or not, as Escobar did when he wrote that slur into his eye-black, or when Baltimore Democrat Emmett C. Burns scolded the Baltimore Ravens for "allowing" linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo to voice support for gay marriage, or when Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown said "homosexuality is a sin."

Positions like those hurt lots of people, gay and straight, because it reminds us that there is still a segment of society that refuses to accept gay people on equal terms. If you're in that segment, I'm not saying you're homophobic. Uninformed? Yeah, I'm saying you're probably that. Look, I'm uninformed on hundreds of things, thousands of things, so many things that I don't even know where to begin. Literally, I don't know what I don't know. Neither do you. Neither does any of us.

But the idea that homosexuality is a choice -- a notion, I suspect, that fuels most of the anti-gay rhetoric out of people like Emmett C. Burns and Ron Brown -- is uninformed. It's wrong. It's not even debatable. Homosexuals are who they are, just as straight people are who they are. A person doesn't choose to be black or white, Asian or Hispanic, homosexual or straight. Find a gay person. Ask. You'll see.

For whatever reason professional sports remain a stronghold of sexuality exclusion, a place where gay men feel compelled to hide their sexuality from colleagues, bosses, the public. Then-Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts publicly came out as gay in 2011 after keeping it hidden for years, even as he became one of the most powerful executives in the NBA.

Not even someone as insulated as Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy -- he was the team's CEO; who was going to fire him? -- felt he could do something as small as watch a game with his boyfriend. According to a story in Sunday's New York Times, "McClatchy said that he frequently heard homophobic language during his days in baseball. It convinced him that keeping his sexual orientation hidden was best."

That's where we are with professional team sports in this country. Although gay rights remains a contentious issue that could well determine the next U.S. President, this country is evolving. Gays are elected officials. They teach school. They cannot oversee a pack of Boy Scouts, but they can openly serve in the U.S. military, they can get married (in certain states) and they can be clergy members (in certain faiths).

But they can't play in the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball -- not without fear of being ostracized in a culture where anti-gay sentiment is so prominent that a player wrote a homosexual slur on his own face.

Last week, a shortstop in Toronto wrote "maricon" into his eye-black. A few days later, a former owner in Pittsburgh admitted that he had hidden his homosexuality while running the team.

Those items aren't related.

Wait a minute -- yes they are.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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