Part of Outsports’ series on our 100 most important moments in gay sports history.
Baseball, 2001. When Out magazine published an editor's letter by editor Brendan Lemon in May 2001, it caused a stir in the sports world that no gay publication had caused before. Lemon's letter revealed a relationship he was having with a Major League Baseball player. The ensuing media explosion reflected the state of the gay athlete in our society in 2001. While Billy Bean had come out a couple years earlier, this secret affair between an active MLB player and the editor of a national gay magazine led to weeks of sports talk and years of speculation on the player's identity.
Much of the conversation around Lemon's revelation reinforced the "impossible to come out in baseball" mantra. Out former MLB player unfortunately led the chorus, telling the New York Daily News that coming out would be "professional suicide," calling what Lemon did "pushing a ballplayer off the plank."
Lemon's letter, and the swirling questions surrounding its one-year anniversary, in part led to Mike Piazza's infamous press conference to declare he is straight and not the player in Lemon's life. Soon after Piazza's revelation in 2002, Lemon wrote a column for Sports Illustrated to talk more about the issue.
To this day, 10 years later, a common question we get at Outsports is about the identity of Lemon's boyfriend. I've become good friends with Lemon over the years, often sitting down with him for some bridge. In all those 10 years and all those bridge matches, he's never whispered a hint about the ballplayer. Of course, I haven't asked either. My guess is Lemon will die with that secret, unless the player comes out himself.
Here is the complete letter by Brendan. Thanks to Out magazine for finding it:
For the past year and a half, I have been having an affair with a pro baseball player from a major-league East Coast franchise, not his team’s biggest star but a very recognizable media figure all the same. During this time, none of my friends has been privy to this liaison, a concealment that has been awkward at times but nothing in comparison to the maneuverings that my ballplayer has had to make. I am surprised that I have put up with this discretion requirement for so long. There is more than a little irony in the editor of the nation’s largest-circulation gay magazine skulking around with someone so deep in the closet.
Though he and I rarely show up together at public events and have avoided situations where one of us would have to introduce the other too obviously as a “friend,” and though our time together has been concentrated in out-of-the-way places, there has always been a little voice in me blaring, “Everybody’s guessed your secret.” Now I know what the other woman feels like.
At some level, I am writing about this relationship because I want the ballplayer to come out and make my life easier. I have spent many nights, awakened by a 3 a.m. phone call after a West Coast game, talking with this guy about his homosexuality and the way it affects his behavior toward his teammates, and I have concluded that coming out would, on balance, lessen his psychic burden. Sure, he’d have to deal with the initial media avalanche and the verbal abuse from some bleacher bums, and there’d be a teammate or two who’d have an adolescent “Oh, my God, he saw me naked in the showers” response. Not to mention a nervous front-office executive or two. But I’m pretty confident there’d be more support from the team than he imagines. With the exception of an occasional judgmental type, most of these straight guys don’t have a problem with homosexuality. Their prime concern is winning, not who you’re sleeping with.
Despite my optimism, there’s a good chance that my friend, like the former San Diego Padre Billy Bean, will wait until his career is wrapping up to go public. Or he’ll never alert the media at all: He’ll settle down with someone else in a pleasant Sun Belt town and let his sexuality be merely an open secret rather than a meticulously guarded one.
Why am I writing about my relationship in this Editor’s Letter? Well, in the course of assembling this luxury-themed issue I read Barry Werth’s new book, The Scarlet Professor, about the 1960 exposure of gay Smith College professor Newton Arvin, which Andrew Holleran eloquently discusses here in reference to the arrest of one of his friends.
The case of Arvin, a distinguished literary critic, reminded me once again of just how high the cost of concealment can be. Arrested in his Northampton, Mass., home for possession of pornography, Arvin, in his shame, named names of gay colleagues. The professor’s sad story must be viewed in its time frame, when coming out could spell immediate ruin of career and family. Then, one could have made a reasonable assumption that self-exposure would be harmful. Today, however, even in institutionally homophobic America, that assumption has been shattered. Whatever the potential fallout, for an athlete, as for everyone else, it’s less psychically risky to come out, not merely to stop the lying but to lessen the internal stress—the kind my ballplayer deals with every day. Tired of telling him this privately, and compromising my self-esteem, I’m now taking a risk and giving him this stronger hint. (I would never out him.) I’ve presented this handsome, highly intelligent athlete with a copy of The Scarlet Professor as well, but the last time we spoke he hadn’t yet gotten round to reading it. I’m pretty sure he’ll read this column.
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