Back when I was in school, my mother was a faithful follow of a soap opera. She didn't watch soap operas in general, she had her favorite, Another World and its spin-off, Somerset, and when they were on everything came to a halt, household tasks were in suspended animation.
I'll admit that for a couple years I watched along with Mom. Somerset came on right about the same time I arrived home from school. I lost the habit and interest when I went away to college, but it was in college that I was introduced to professional baseball. So in a way, I was primed for the Yankees of the late seventies, the Bronx Zoo years.
I wouldn't say I was a fan of the team, but I found the daily dramas highly entertaining. Stirring drinks, firing and hiring and firing and hiring and, pine tar, all of it contributed to making the Billy-Reggie-Thurman-George Follies the most fascinating show baseball had to offer at the time. The loss of the captain not only was a personal, human tragedy, it heightened the continuing drama in New York.
When I came back to baseball, after my self-imposed 14-year exile, I looked for some remnant of that ongoing saga. But there was nothing. Baseball was well behaved, players and owners were sedate.
The Dirt Dawgs proclaiming themselves Idiots who cowboyed up was a welcome ray of hope for a return of a dramatic comedy of manners in baseball. Nomar's whining, Manny being Manny, Kevin Millar reclaimed from Japan, all of these only made the Red Sox more lovable. Not only did they provide entertainment on the field, they provided it off as well.
So the latest news flashes, Barry Bonds on trial, Roger Clemens headed to court, Alex Rodriguez exposed, Roberto Alomar accused, all of it is wonderful. It is not a distraction. It is not irrelevant. It's value added entertainment.
People will say what players do in their private lives is none of our business, but I say anyone who is willing to place themselves in a position that will attract the attention, and money, of the public has relinquished the exclusive rights to their privacy. Like they say about what you should exclude from emails (and internet posting), if you wouldn't want to read it on the front page of the New York Times, keep it to yourself. If you would be ashamed to have your grandmother learn it about you, don't do it.
Bonds, Clemens, and Pay-Rod (oh I've enjoyed the newest crop of nicknames for the best shortstop not playing shortstop: A-Fraud, A-Roid, heehee), what they did was not private. It was not personal. Their indiscreet acts were designed to affect their performance and therefore affect The Game. To those who claim steroids, HGH, and other performance enhancement drugs have no effect, that the superior hand-eye coordination and physical workouts solely are responsible for the jump in production, the ratcheting up of ability, I have to pose the question If these have no effect, why would players use them, continue to use them over a long period of time?
Alomar's situation is different. It is a matter of some privacy, but his case also serves as a springboard for discussions about gender and stereotypes. Discussions that address HIV, AIDS, homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexuality, ethnicity, and race all can be opened by posing questions about Alomar's situation, real and hypothetical. It is hard to imagine a more difficult position for a man to consider coming out in than as a black Latino baseball player. All three of those identities are bound up in tough rules of masculinity, and when they are combined, the pressure to remain closeted is increased exponentially.
We know there are gay men playing baseball. Professionally. In the majors. But the likelihood that any of them will come out any time soon is minuscule. And as once there were no black men, no men of color playing in the majors, denying boys the model that they could build their dreams around, it is important that young people, boys and girls, see people who resemble themselves on the professional diamond. Girls need to have the reality of playing baseball, not just softball, as possible, as achievable. Gay children, even if they aren't yet aware of their orientation, need to see positive examples of gay men and lesbians within the professional sports world, in baseball in particular.
Football players are caricatures of masculinity. Hockey players, and boxers, exude male strength. Basketball players display strength through endurance and contact on the court. Race car drivers are powerful, controlling high energy machines. Even jockeys, whose physical stature seems to counter the masculine ideals, are virile thanks to their command over race horses. Baseball is the sport that has been considered suspect in terms of manliness, so it continues to be excessive in its own version of machismo, definitely not an environment that would invite openness necessary for a person to come out with any sense of comfort or safety.