Coming out is a term heard in the LGBT community forever.
My story is very different from most people. I was on the public stage, a path I chose back when I was just 19. I wanted to be in professional baseball, and hiding was the only way I felt safe. I wanted to be a major league umpire, so I kept my secret to myself until I was 36, (old compared to others but it was the '80s), which is when I started to "come out" to some of my fellow umpires, and then eventually to my boss.
It was the start of my process of finally coming out of the closet and to be at peace with myself. My family didn't know, but they were next on the list. However, on Sept. 15, 1988, just before my 37th birthday, my world as I knew it came to an end. I was outed by a newspaper article. For me, it was nothing less than physiological rape. A very private decision, a monumental one in anyone's life, was made for me. It changed the course of my life forever. My family, friends, co-workers all found out through the newspapers and my baseball career was over.
Less than two years later I wrote my autobiography. I started "Behind the Mask" with a quote by Bette Davis: "You have to have the guts to be hated." As a major league umpire, I had the guts to be hated, but I never had the guts to be true to myself. For me, writing "Behind the Mask" was cathartic, but it was also my true coming out. It was a way to let my true story be told, and maybe, just maybe, help others as well.
Not only did it help me, it helped far more people than I ever would have imagined. Thousands wrote to tell me that they took that monumental step they had dreaded their entire life. To know that my story was the impetuous in helping young people and adults feel better about themselves is a humbling experience.
Since the fall of 1990, I have taken my story to countless universities, colleges, athletic departments, and corporations spreading the word about respecting yourself for who you are and to find inner peace. I speak about how all of us, no matter who we are live in a "box."
The overwhelming question from my audience, no matter their demographic makeup, is how to finally come out of that box and to respect who you are. It's not an easy question to answer but my answer was always the same. You need to sit down with yourself and ask the questions "Whose life is this I'm living? Is it mine or someone else's?" The answers were not complicated. The life is yours. You must you live your life for yourself. It's the only life you have. It isn't a dress rehearsal. You must live your life to its fullest and feel good about who you are. Know that when, you wake up in the morning, and look yourself in the mirror, you see a good person. One who should always respects who they are. I have always said that coming out is a process. It is not a onetime event. It is a lifetime of events. It is the rest of your life. It's how you live your life that shapes the coming out process.
My life has been made easier because I had the bully pulpit. I was able to not only continue my coming out process by speaking to the masses, but to help others follow in my footsteps and to find inner peace. I am lucky and I will never stop trying to help those of us who still struggle with finding the strength to come out.
Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock once told me that I was the "white" Jackie Robinson. I'm not sure if I deserve such a compliment. However I do know that I need to fight as hard as he did. What Jackie Robinson did was make it better for others to follow in his footsteps.
I too want to continue to make it better for others to follow in my footsteps. For all of us who do come out, we do make it better not only for ourselves but for others who will follow. We must never forget the struggles we had to find the courage to come out. We must continue to do our part to make it better for those of us who have not yet taken that step and who will follow in our footsteps.
Dave Pallone is a diversity trainer and speaker based in Colorado. For 10 years, he was a Major League Baseball umpire. He can be reached via his website: http://davepallone.com. He wrote this story for Outsports in commemoration of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11.