Former Owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates Comes Out

Kevin McClatchy, the former owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and now the board chairman at the McClatchy Company newspaper chain, said in an interview with The New York Times that he is gay.

He first began to accept that he was gay in his mid-20s. But he didn’t tell anyone in his immediate family until just before his purchase of the Pirates, and did so then, he said, only because someone displeased with the deal threatened to go public with a rumor of McClatchy’s sexual orientation unless he backed out. He correctly gambled that the threat was a bluff, but alerted his sister in case it wasn’t.

The interview, which appeared online Saturday and will be in Sunday print editions, is the 49-year-old McClatchy’s first public acknowledgement of his sexual orientation. No athlete in the four major U.S. professional sports leagues – football, baseball, basketball, hockey – has come out while playing. Longtime NBA executive Rick Welts, then with the Phoenix Suns, drew attention last year for announcing he is gay.  McClatchy owned the Pirates from 1996 until 2007.

“You’re not going to solve any problem until you start a dialogue,” he said. “And there’s no dialogue right now.”  Throughout his tenure with Pittsburgh, McClatchy worked to keep his sexual orientation a secret from anyone beyond a tight circle of family and close friends, The Times reported.

McClatchy told the newspaper he frequently heard homophobic language during his days in baseball. It convinced him that staying closeted was the best course of action.  He stated: 

I think, with everybody, there’s a time that feels right, and for me this was a time. My hope is that it’s going to be able to help younger kids that want to get into professional sports and feel there are still great barriers. But I think, more important than that, it needs to create a dialogue about major league sports and sort of the void obviously that exists . . . Things have changed in a positive way, but there’s still a lot more change to go. So I’m speaking up. And I’m sure people will criticize me because I came out later, and I should have come out while I was in baseball and in the thick of it. But you don’t understand what it’s like in somebody’s else’s footsteps. You don’t understand the pressures that they’re facing at that point.

I personally understand why some people remain in the closet.  I do so at work because it is safer for my job. I think the major difference in McClatchy and I (besides his wealth) is that although he frequently heard homophobic language during his days in baseball, I never have stayed silent about homophobic language.  I consistently scold my students for using such language.  It may cause some to suspect I am gay, but I do not tolerate any disrespectful or derogatory language.  Though the article does not say he did stay silent about homophobic comments, he did not state that he did anything to stop it. What really did he have to lose by making the Pirates a welcoming environment. His response to this was:

When we took over, the Pirates were last in the league of revenues, last in the league of attendance, and everyone said they’re moving to northern Virginia or Atlanta . . . . It would have been, I think, a gamble at that point to come out and do it and if there had been negative reaction, we were living sort of on the edge as far as trying to gain support, gain the public trust to help us get the financing to get a new ball park that was going to keep this team here for the next 30 years. And so I was focused, I guess, on what was directly in front of me . . . I was frightened that my own personal situation could in some way jeopardize the whole franchise.

As I said, I understand not coming out, but why brush off the homophobic comments just to stay in the closet.  People can always take the moral high ground, but being so closeted causes the fear we face of being outed to compromise our moral responsibility.  If we constantly work for a more accepting environment, then standing up against such language would not endanger us.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York TimesKevin McClatchy and his partner Jack Basilone

When asked to what extent do you think gay athletes in the “Big Four” sports are worried that if they come out, there will be complaints from their straight counterparts about everyone changing and showering together? McClatchy stated, “I think it’s an overrated issue as a workplace issue. If cops and firefighters and people trying to protect our freedom on the other side of the globe in the military—if they can do it, sports needs to try and get over itself. It shouldn’t be that big a deal.”

So if McClatchy believes that it is an overrated issue, he should have come out earlier, but why now.  McClatchy noted that his 50th birthday is coming in January and he’s spent decades avoiding talk about his personal life.  “There’s no way I want to go into the rest of my existence and ever have to hide my personal life again,” he said. At some point, a major American professional sports figure will have to come out before their retirement, show that it is acceptable, and open the door for those in the future.  I think when sports figures come out after their retirement, then they are sending the message that it is not safe and that you cannot be out and a major American professional sports figure.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

8 responses to “Former Owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates Comes Out

  • Coop

    Good for McClatchy! Major league sports has definitely turned a corner and there are plenty of positive examples. I'm proud of him.

  • Will

    Good for him! The more people who are or have been associated with pro sports come out, the more we will understand how many gay men and lesbians are present throughout that world both on the various fields and in the managing organizations.

  • gp

    It also should be noted that the McClatchy newspaper chain is one of a tiny number of smart, principled chains still putting out good newspapers in the USA. If there's a better newspaper chain left in this country, i don't know what it is.

  • Jay M.

    Yes, Joe, I agree with you in the last paragraph, but as has been pointed out, there are a myriad of reasons why someone would wait. I think even coming out now is a help…and I also think the time is close that someone currently in pro sports is going to yank down the pink shower curtain and come out. I also hope everyone supports You Can Play, Outsports, and other efforts to help kids know that it's OK to be gay and play sports. Then maybe the adults will come around, too!Peace <3Jay

  • Coop

    Forgive me, Joe, but I wonder if your last paragraph is a little bit of "never good enough". My own feelings about "coming out" have evolved. Why can't his? I can be chastised for not coming out until college. I'll stick my tongue out at anyone who does to me, but still. As a rich, famous guy Kevin McClatchy's coming out is different from ours. He gets news coverage. and, I guess, if it wasn't in the press, it didn't happen. That's what all this sounds like (and by that I mean, the coverage as a whole… not just this blog). What i'm driving at is: What if he chose to come out, but without the NYT interview?

  • JoeBlow

    I am not really criticizing McClatchy for coming out at this stage. We all have our reasons for when and how we come out. My main point is that I want to see a major American professional sports figure come out during his career. I'm proud of McClatchy for coming out, but my main criticism is that coming out after retirement sends the wrong message sometimes. I know that it does sounds like "never good enough" but at some point something has got to give.

  • Coop

    I see your point about a professional athlete coming out before retirement. I hope that social attitudes are evolving such that some athletes may consider it. Pro sports is full of people with cave-man ideas about homosexuality. Imagine an out gay football player opposing one of those idiots on the field. The sport is physically dangerous enough.

Thank you for commenting. I always want to know what you have to say. However, I have a few rules: 1. Always be kind and considerate to others. 2. Do not degrade other people's way of thinking. 3. I have the right to refuse or remove any comment I deem inappropriate. 4. If you comment on a post that was published over 14 days ago, it will not post immediately. Those comments are set for moderation. If it doesn't break the above rules, it will post.

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