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Dave Pallone Changing Attitudes, One Pitch at a Time

(This story was published in 2001).

A 13-year-old video has proven to be an effective attention-grabber for Dave Pallone.

It's from April 30, 1988, and shows Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose in a vehement argument with Pallone, the first base umpire, in the ninth inning of a Reds-New York Mets game. Pallone and Rose go jaw-to-jaw like in a million such baseball run-ins. But this one ends differently, with Rose twice shoving Pallone and being ejected. The home-town fans go nuts and shower the field with debris for 15 minutes in a mini-riot.

The video never fails to entertain the crowd, be it on a college campus or at a major corporation, and Pallone uses it to help drive home a message: gays are everywhere.

``My having a pro sports background tends to sway those on the fence and move others closer,'' said Pallone, who for almost 12 years has been a sought-after motivational speaker and diversity trainer.

Pallone created a national stir with the 1990 publication of ``Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball.'' Pallone was fired by baseball in 1988 for his alleged involvement in a teenage sex ring, charges that were later deemed to be groundless. He contended in his book that he was really fired for being gay, having privately come out to then baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti. Pressure from some team owners caused his firing, Pallone said, and Giamatti's widow has said the firing was a decision her husband later regretted.

The attention derived from the book, combined with his strong interpersonal skills, allowed Pallone to carve out a niche working with students and employees to educate them about homosexuality and its place in society.

His sports background gives Pallone a shared language to bond with people who might normally not feel they have much in common with a gay man. How many of them can claim to have gotten physical with a baseball legend?

``It makes a difference in me getting people to listen in that I come from the world of sports, said Pallone, 49, a Massachusetts native now living in Colorado Spring, Colo., with his partner, Keith, a financial manager for a Catholic hospital.

``I'm not out to preach to the choir. ... It's the people who don't want to be part of the choir who need to hear.''

The topics Pallone covers during his talk, ``Who's Really on First?, are wide-ranging: discrimination and its impact on the work place or campus; how labels hinder productive relationships; the burden of living in the closet; and understanding sexual orientation. His audience has been eclectic. Among the dozens of companies and campuses he has spoken at are Microsoft, Pfizer, Andersen Consulting, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Xavier University, Vanderbilt, Northeastern and UC-Davis.

Companies bring Pallone in to increase employee sensitivity, either because a problem has occurred or because they want their gay and lesbian workers to feel accepted.

`They need to be innovative. It helps the bottom line,'' said Pallone, who said a company's positive image could mask internal troubles. ``They want to bring someone in who helps you feel better on the inside.''

While Pallone said reaction to his visits is very favorable, he doesn't kid himself. He knows there are some minds that won't be changed by a one-day workshop. He can count on one hand the number of campuses in the South he has spoken at, and has never been invited by a company based in the South..

Positive changes during the 1990s have made society more understanding and sensitive to gay issues, he contends. ``They're seeing us as human beings, not just sexual beings. ... I stress that we all have a sexual orientation. Mine happens to be gay, but it's just a part of me.''

But don't use the ``tolerance'' as a positive term around Pallone. ``I truly dislike the word `tolerance.' I want to be accepted and respected, not tolerated,'' he said.

Sports, his former avocation, is still years behind in its acceptance of sexual orientation, but even there Pallone sees some rays of hope. He thought the recent hubbub over the gay baseball player and the Out magazine editor was a positive in the sense of making people aware of the issue.

Despite his firing by baseball and the resulting controversy, Pallone is convinced it all happened for a reason.

``I'm supposed to be doing what I'm doing today, because I can break down barriers.''