(This story was published in 2002).

By: Randy Boyd

We might be able to start setting our clocks by it: the annual mini-media spotlight on the question: Is there a real catcher in baseball?

Last year, an Out magazine op-ed piece allegedly written by the lover of a gay player ignited the fury. This year, it’s another New York based publication that dishes out a heavy dose of insinuation and innuendo, and for a few days anyway, the NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs and everything else in the sports world is on hold while we speculate on the answer to The Biggest Question and Challenge in Professional Sports: Can naked grown straight men function in the same enclosed space as naked grown not-so-straight men?

Cue the speculation, theorizing and gay sports fans’ hopeful fantasies. Cue the homophobic players saying they’re afraid to let anyone who’s gay see their penis. Or their backstops, for that matter (cause Lord knows, all it takes is five seconds alone with a naked straight man to make him forget his wife and/or girlfriend and switch to “our team.” We’re that persuasive or they’re that weak and inclined, take your pick). Cue the rumor mill. Cue the denials. Cue Billy “Please Don’t Hurt Me” Bean, our poster boy and media expert when it comes to the subject of homos hiding out in pro sports.

Bean became “a qualified expert” by default when he came out of the closet after his short-lived baseball career, and to my knowledge, has never had anything positive to say about the prospect of someone being same-gender loving in the world of sports. His negative demeanor on the topic doesn’t just cover the prospect of someone being an active player and openly gay. No, sir, if you listen to Doomsday Billy, a homo couldn’t make it in pro sports in any capacity, in or out, because there’s just too much pressure to be a hetero pig with the rest of the boys. If I were a young, gay or questioning kid with aspirations of 360 slam dunks or grand slam homers or hat tricks, I’d run the other way from the playing fields after listening to Bean.

Could the dude be more fatalistic?

If that’s what his own experience was like, fine, but hey, don’t rain on everybody’s parade. Attention, Billy: your experience as a queer journeyman in baseball is not the sum total of all experiences by all homos in sports. Common sense would dictate that, if nothing else. But not to CryBaby Bean. Sometimes he sounds like the PR rep for an organization trying to keep gays outta sports.

Maybe that’s why he’s the media darling; he helps them feed on their fears.

With this latest flare-up of New York Met gossip, expert Bean appeared on expert Jim Rome’s show and reiterated what expert Bean has said from Day One about gays in sports: Coming out and being da man in the pros mixes like oil and water, like baseball contraction and good will, like the Cleveland Cavaliers and wins.

“The people who run sports don’t want distractions,” he told Romey.

People running sports don’t want distractions?

Since when is getting laid a distraction?

Since when is loving with dignity a distraction?

Since when is being accepted and respected for who you are a distraction?

People are fighting and dying all over the world at this very moment because they want to be treated fairly (whatever their version of “fairly” is).

SPORTS is the distraction, CryBaby.

Halfway across the globe, young men (and women!) are walking into bakeries and onto bus stops blowing up themselves and strangers, and now, just about every security official in the US with something at stake is warning us that that road show is coming our way sooner than Star Wars III.

Yeah, it’s nice for Shaq et al. to make millions dunking baskets and pitching burgers and cheese fries, and therefore they gotta take sports, e.g., their jobs, seriously if they want the dough. But children starving, restaurant-goers exploding, people feeling generally alienated from society for a billion reasons (AIDS, poverty, lack of affordable housing to name a few)–that’s the real world. The half-assed efforts these athletically gifted men provide on the court and fields (see Chris Webber rebounding) is NOT.

Sports is nothing BUT distraction, which is why it’s only natural and fitting that reporters have feeding frenzies over things like Chuck Finley in a shoe fight with his skanky rocker wife; Michael’s gambling ways; Ray Lewis’s borderline(?) criminal ways; Barry Bonds’ and Mark McGwire’s supplement ways; Webber’s model girlfriend; questions like, who’s dating Toni Braxton?; who shot the limo driver?; who punched whom in the locker room?; which French judge made which deal?; which city gave out the best bribes to land an event?; and on and on and on to the break of dawn.

Dear Crybaby: Don’t try and tell us there’s no room for one more ring in the infinite ring circus that is sports.

Dear Gay Man in Pro Sports Who Might Be Entertaining the Idea of Going Public: Here’s the best reason of all for you to come out: So we can fire Doomsday Billy as our spokesperson.

Randy Boyd is a novelist and regular contributor to Outsports. His novels include Uprising, Bridge Across the Ocean, and The Devil Inside.