By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

It’s still news when a sportswriter comes out

I find it interesting that it’s 2011 and it’s still occasionally noteworthy when we learn that a journalist is gay. Today Boston Herald sports columnist Steve Buckley writes a heartfelt piece — teased on page one — headlined “Welcome to my coming-out party.”

No surprise. I’d heard several times over the years that Buckley was gay, though, as Buckley makes clear, he wasn’t fully, publicly out. What makes his sexual orientation newsworthy are two factors:

  • He covers sports, a macho world where such things still matter, if not nearly as much as they used to. You can be sure that if Buckley’s beat were the Statehouse, he would not have written about being gay.
  • He’s probably best known as a regular presence on sports radio station WEEI (AM 850), where homophobia has been part of the mix for many years. Here’s just a taste. I don’t listen to ‘EEI as much as I used to, and perhaps the gay-baiting isn’t as bad as it was in the past. In any case, Buckley’s coming-out may encourage the station to clean up its act.

This is actually the second time a Herald sportswriter has come out — Buckley was preceded by Ed Gray in 2003. So let’s not make too much of this. Still, it’s a good thing that Buckley has decided to be who he is in public as well as in private. Somewhere today there’s a gay teenager feeling just a little bit better about himself.

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  1. ben starr

    I think the sportswriting angle is different from other forms of journalism not just because its a machor world but also because some of the interview subjects are naked or near naked.

  2. Good points Dan. I agree, it was a very heartfelt column. I think it’s important because every time someone comes out there are fewer people who can say they don’t know anyone who’s gay or lesbian. It shakes up our stereotypical attitudes and that’s a good thing.

  3. L.K. Collins

    As long as the media, believes a person’s coming out is newsworthy, that sort of discrimination and stigma is perpetuated. So what the teenager gets to feel better about is slammed in his face once again by the very article that is such an alleged benefit.

    I am not sure why Buckley felt the imperative to write since neither his being homosexual or our knowing it has any bearing on the articles he writes or our understanding of them.

    I am sure that it is really no one else’s business, and the media, including you, Dan, should be starting to recognize that.

  4. Mike Benedict

    L.K. is right in that one’s sexual orientation is no one else’s business. That said, I would agree with Dan (and disagree with L.K.) about the likely effect on the reader. The truth is, Buckley is for better or worse a highly visible role model. And homosexuality is not yet, as L.K. does not write but certainly implies, a broadly accepted personality trait or lifestyle. Witness all the hemming and hawing over DADT, for one.

    Or consider the reaction the next time Buckley enters a locker room full of naked men. My guess is no one will be grabbing for a towel. But try to find the active major league baseball, football or hockey player who is admittedly gay.

    We still have a long way to go, and as such, the more real those in public positions like Buckley can make it, the better off we are as a society.

  5. Hartley Pleshaw

    Dear Dan:

    Some of your respondents are absolutely right. In the best of all possible worlds, Steve Buckley’s sexual preference would be of concern to no one. Alas, as you may have noticed, we don’t live in such a world.

    Two reasons we don’t can be found in the pages of the publication Buckley writes for: Howie Carr and Joe Fitzgerald (among, I am sure, others). Were I a betting man, I’d be happy to take the over-under that within a week, Fitzgerald will write a column slobbering all over Buckley, praising him as a friend and colleague, the tone reeking of patronizing condescension. (“See, this PROVES that I don’t hate gays!” will be the obvious subtext.) Then, within a week, Holy Joe will be back to his old self, accusing “the gays” of subverting, perverting and ruining 4,000 years of Western Civilization.

    Those familiar with the Herald’s history already know of such a precedent. When David Brudnoy was hospitalized with AIDS, he wrote a column thanking his good pal, then-Herald columnist Don Feder, for visiting him. How touching. In no time, Feder pounded out yet another homophobic screed.

    This attitude–call it, “only in my back yard”–has always been one of the chief enablers of bigotry and prejudice. I remember hearing many members of my parents’ generation (the World War II one) make alleged distinctions between “Negroes” and “niggers”, and between “good Jews” and “kikes”. (I remember asking a relative of mine, someone I knew to be virulently anti-Catholic, why he voted for JFK for president. “Because he wasn’t one of THOSE Catholics,” he replied.) Don’t be at all surprized if you hear echos of such attitudes in the coming days from the Herald, and from WEEI.

    • Dan Kennedy

      I’m surprised at the comments that sexual orientation is or should be a private matter, given that it never is for straight people. Think of how easy and natural for radio personalities (of which Buckley is one) to talk about what they’re doing with their wives or husbands that weekend.

  6. Mike Benedict

    @Dan: Think of how easy and natural for radio personalities (of which Buckley is one) to talk about what they’re doing with their wives or husbands that weekend.

    You’re missing a nuance. So Gerry Callahan tells his audience that he and the Missus went to Home Depot last weekend. What he doesn’t do is add, “Oh yeah, I’m straight,” at the end of the comment. If I’m Buckley, I don’t write about my orientation on the front page of the Herald. But again, if I’m Buckley, I live my life without apologies (or closets). If it comes up in conversation, fine. If you and your boyfriend/significant other/life partner is both male, we can figure out the rest.

  7. Dan,

    It’s a shame that Buckeley felt like he had to hide for so long. Easily understandable, but sad nonetheless. I can only begin to imagine what a burden must have been lifted when he decided to write today’s column. I’m happy for him.

    That said, his old timey stories about 1967 still suck.


  8. Mike Rice

    In my day to day life, it matters not to me what the sexual orientation of my butcher, baker or candlestick maker is. Mr. Buckley obviously felt a need to declare his sexual orientation so in that respect I’m happy for him.

  9. Some of these comments seem to be questioning Mr. Buckley’s need to go public with the fact that he’s gay.

    Well I know how I’d feel if I were reluctant to tell someone that I was Jewish, if I couldn’t mention Chanukah while everyone else was talking about Christmas, if I had to go along and pretend I was Christian, or just avoid the topic altogether, if I were afraid to be seen coming out of a synagogue or in the supermarket buying matzo on Passover.

    Sure, my religious beliefs don’t have anything to do with my job but it’s still not a comfortable feeling to have to hide something so basic to who you are. Frankly, it’s also hard to explain that feeling to the straight, white, male, Christian majority. I lived in Israel for a year so I know what it’s like from the other side, too. When you’re in the majority, it’s very difficult to put yourself in the place of a minority.

    I have gay friends who’ve come out to me and I always feel honored that they trust me and I do my best to be supportive. I can’t imagine what it was like for my friends – good, generous people – to have to be in the closet.

    It’s not a “need to declare his sexual orientation.” It’s about being comfortable in your own skin, being comfortable with who you are and no longer having to be afraid of someone finding out.

    And if you’re a gay teenager somewhere who loves following sports, I think you’d find Mr. Buckley’s column an inspiration. The worst thing is to feel alone, that there’s no one else like you, that you’ll never be successful or accepted or loved for who you are, that you’ll always be in hiding and live in fear of being outed.

  10. Al Fiantaca

    For me, isn’t an issue of whether or not Mr. Buckley is comfortable in his own skin, or can now make social references to those he meets, that reflect his sexual preference. It’s a matter of why is it important that he announce it in the public media afforded to him because of his athletic knowledge? If he wanted to come out publicly, then he should have done it on one of the Internet options, such as Twitter. If he wants to tell his friends, co-workers, and people he meets, then fine, but any interest I have in him is for his sports knowledge and entertainment value as a commenter, not his sexual orientation.

  11. John F.J. Sullivan

    Sadly, it *is* still news, but good for Buckley. It must be a special kind of hell to believe (rightly or wrongly) that one needs to hide something so basic as one’s sexual orientation.

    I’ve gained new respect for him as a man and wish him nothing but good things.

  12. Mike Rice

    Mr. Buckley obviously needed to declare his sexual orientation.. in order to be more comfortable in his own skin. I apologize for my vagueness Ms. Iris.

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