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.