Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Boston’s toughest sports writer: Steve Buckley

The Boston sports media is well-known for being “tough.” Within this harsh market, there are a lot of different types of writers. Some write for shock value and others write for the approval of Boston’s historically pessimistic fans. Few really “tell it like it is,” or at the very least, logically put panic into perspective. One of these few writers is University of Massachusetts alumnus Steve Buckley ’78, a columnist for the Boston Herald and a regular guest on Comcast Sports Net and WEEI sports radio network.

Buck, as his peers and readers refer to him, has always been one of my favorite sports writers. His columns take more than the crowd’s opinion into consideration, and with historical proof, both anecdotal and statistical, he uses humor and realism to produce what is more often than not an enjoyable and insightful read.

On Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, he wrote what might have been his most honest and real column ever; he publicized that he is gay.

My immediate reaction was simply, “Wow, good for him.” But once I considered the context, I realized that what he did was much more than just “good for him.”

I’ve read a lot of other reaction columns to Buck’s “coming-out party,” and from what I’ve seen, a lot of the responses are simply, “Who cares?” I couldn’t disagree more. The overall reaction of Buckley’s readership may be indifference as other columnists have suggested, but just as Buck does so well, let’s put this into perspective.

Think back to the last professional sporting event that you went to. If you pay any attention to the JumboTron, you’ve probably seen the “Kiss Cam.” Do you ever remember seeing two men giggle embarrassingly before giving each other a big wet kiss to the crowds overwhelming approval? I can think of one instance, and it was a joke. And actually, I’m pretty certain that Buckley himself was at that game covering the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Sure, it’s much harder to pick a gay couple out of a crowd than a straight one, but the point is that homosexuality is something that isn’t exactly embraced in the world of sports.

While that’s merely one argument, there’s plenty of evidence that proves the same point. In 1998, ESPN’s Outside the Lines published a story about homosexual athletes entitled “The brief history of gay athletes.” “Brief” being the key word. Of the only 26 names in the article, Billy Jean King and Greg Louganis were the only ones I’d heard of. It’s been just over 12 years since the story ran, but if there were only 26 openly gay athletes between 1920 and 1998, there’s no way the number has changed much.

To my knowledge, there is not one current openly gay athlete; I do know, however, that there are gay athletes today. How could there not be? According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were an estimated 8,910 professional athletes in 2009.  In the Edison Research 2008 election exit polls, four percent of Americans identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Using both approximate statistics, there were roughly 356 gay, lesbian or bisexual athletes last year. While there are probably a few open homosexual or bisexual athletes I don’t know of, the point is that the number isn’t zero. Considering that the amount of gay athletes is likely to be in the hundreds rather than single digits, no one could argue with the idea that it’s tough to be openly gay in the American sports industry.

In a 2002 Sports Illustrated piece about the controversy surrounding former MLB catcher Mike Piazza’s sexuality, former manager Larry Bowa said, “If it was me, I’d probably wait until my career was over [to publicize one’s homosexuality].” Others felt baseball was ready to accept gay players in the story, but nine years later, where are they?

Buck isn’t a professional athlete, but he works with them. Besides, can you name any openly gay sports writers? Chances are you can’t, and it is for the same reasons you probably couldn’t list openly gay athletes, either. In Boston – like other big sports towns such as Chicago and New York – the writers and columnists who cover local pro teams are like celebrities to die-hard fans. And just like being a gay athlete would, being an openly gay sports writer has the serious potential to draw negative and unnecessary attention. Because of Buck’s status as a highly regarded and well known writer in Boston, his sexuality is relevant because fans want to know who he is. If he were covering the Lowell Spinners, the column would have been pointless. He knew his audience would care, whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, so he was honest about it.

Buckley stepped up to the plate. He knew he would be in locker rooms while judgmental athletes were changing or showering after games. He knew that when people dislike him or disagree with him, they’ll have a whole new set of asinine insults to ridicule him with now – especially in an industry that you often only hear from your readership if they disagree with you or think you’re wrong. And that’s just in Massachusetts – a state that tends to be more liberal than others.

The local columnists who brushed off his bold confession as just another column in the Herald didn’t look outside the box. At 2:22 p.m. the day Buckley’s story was published, the Landover Baptist Church’s website opened a thread entitled, “Boston is so queer, even its sports writers are gay!” The first post by self-proclaimed “Lawyer for the Lord” Gabriel Reproba suggests that Boston fans start a new cheer: “We’ve got AIDS … yes we do! We’ve got AIDS … how ’bout YOU!?!?”

People need to stop telling themselves that racism is dead because we have a black president; it’s not true. The same goes for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. There are a lot of hate-filled ignorant people living in America, and Buckley, much more so than the vast majority of his readers, isn’t stationed just in Massachusetts.

He came out and proudly admitted his sexuality, knowing that some people would judge him, hate him, stop reading his columns and change the channel when he came on TV. But Buck’s tough, and just like Boston fans always – well, almost always – stand by their athletes, they’ve stood by Buck. While a guest on “The Big Show” on WEEI, Buckley laughed along with callers who made harmless puns about his coming out, just as other hosts and guests on the station get heckled about their weight and personalities.    Seeing how the fans and Buck were handling the situation made me proud to be a Boston sports fan.

Those who argued indifference and said that it shouldn’t change how anyone feels about him were right. They didn’t, however, consider that while they may have felt that way, others will most certainly not. I hope that people can be mature and understand who he is and what he does hasn’t changed, but ignorant extremists like Reproba are out there. It’s important to be realistic about these kinds of things, because we don’t live in the beautiful world we always try to tell ourselves we live in.

Buck’s realistic, and that’s why I enjoy reading his columns so much. More importantly though, he’s tough. Not the kind of “tough” that jumps on a hero when he’s down.  He’s honest and bold when he needs to be. Shortly after Congress voted to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Buckley made a huge stride for gay figures in the world of sports, and I hope fans, fellow writers and athletes alike recognize the significance of his column.

I’m proud that he’s a product of my future alma mater and even prouder to work for the newspaper that he started his career at.

Justin Gagnon is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • D

    dropshiptextbookMay 27, 2011 at 3:37 am

    Nice Post….
    Nice to Know about him and his colomns….

  • A

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