2002-05-25 / Sports

Piazza Fouls Off Journalist’s Curveball

By Elio Velez

By Elio Velez

The story is known by now. Mike Piazza declared in Philadelphia that he is heterosexual and not gay. What was once a weak rumor that started months ago has turned into a firestorm. For Piazza to come out in a hastily assembled press conference and tell the media about his sexual preferences is a sad chapter in journalism.

What saddened me is that supposed journalists such as Neil Travis can write crap like that. It was one of the most sickening and disgusting things I read. For anyone to place innuendo and rumor as fact is irresponsible journalism, and when that story is given credence or regarded as the truth, it scares me as a journalist.

When I cover a game, I report on the happenings on the field. I talk about how Derek Jeter is playing for the Yankees, not on how well his date with a supermodel went at the China Club. I report on how Mike Piazza went 3 for 4 with 2 home runs and not his sexual preference.

It is not any of my business to interrogate players on dating habits. I am not writing for the National Enquirer. My job is to focus on what is happening on the field and stories that involve the sport I am writing about. If I ever start to question an athlete’s sexuality, I start to become like Joseph McCarthy, who didn’t care if you was a writer or an actor, you were a communist and evil. That I will never do.

I will tell you what this story has made me conclude. In 2002, in the greatest city of the world, people are not ready to handle sports athletes who are gay

Some sports talk show hosts even criticized Piazza for talking to the media. It was going to disappear if he did not discuss it. They are very naïve. Piazza had to step up quickly in disavowing the rumors because if he didn’t talk, the innuendo would kill his career. The label would stick to his commercial endorsements and other opportunities he would like to pursue. Piazza could have been blackballed for being something he is not. Because of all that, he had to reveal his private life to the public. How unfair is that to Mike Piazza?

There is no question that an athlete would have problems ever revealing he or she was gay in this environment. It would be the equivalent of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in 1947. This is not a black and white issue as it was then. People from all races and cultures would step up to criticize a gay athlete. The pressure would be intense, and it would not be limited to just the locker room. Would players ever treat that athlete with the same respect that they did before he came out? Can the athlete take fans in other cities yelling obscenities about their sexual preference? Those are just a few questions that I ask, and there are so many others that can be posed

It would take an athlete who is resilient, courageous and thick skinned to take the abuse that he or she would be given. But it shouldn’t have to happen. No one should be forced to take that kind of abuse from anyone.

No athlete, heck, no person should have to look behind their back to see if someone is spying on them. It is clear that not many athletes, media, fans and this country are ready for a player to come out of the closet. I thought that the media and people were becoming more tolerant. I would love to be proven wrong, and I want people to write, email or stop me on the street and tell me. Prove me wrong people.

Until next week, peace!

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