Editor’s Note: Dave Pallone worked as a professional umpire for 18 years, 10 of those years with the National Baseball League. Pallone is the author of the 1990 New York Time’s best-selling autobiography, Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball.
On November 30, 1988 I learned firsthand what homophobia in sports was all about. That was the day Major League Baseball fired me because I was gay. After 18 years as an accomplished umpire, 10 of those years with the National Baseball League, Major League Baseball decided there was no room for a gay man within their ranks. This decision by Major League Baseball, more than 20 years ago, left a scar on the face of our national pastime.
Why do I bring this up today, after all these years? It seems to me that there are many similarities between Major League Baseball and the state of our military. When “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became law in 1993, it also left a scar. The scar that was left this time, however, was on our Nation’s face.
In the Major Leagues the integrity of an umpire is one that can never be questioned. The umpire’s integrity is what makes the profession what it is and has been since its inception by Abner Doubleday. Despite this fact, how can one feel like they have integrity when they are forced to lie; lie about who they are, and forced to live a double life? This is what Major League Baseball forced me to do. I had to live in a box and hide throughout my entire career. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is doing exactly this, by forcing courageous men and women, who happen to be gay, out of our nation’s military, to keep their lives hidden each and every day they serve our country. They are forced to live in a box, become liars, and throw their integrity into the trash. I have never served in our military. I have the upmost respect for all the men and women who serve our nation with honor, dignity, and for the too many of them that give the ultimate sacrifice. That said, how can I possibly respect those in our military (and for that matter in major league baseball), who force those of us who happen to be gay/lesbian to lie to our peers, family, friends and, most of all, to ourselves on a daily basis? How can we, as a nation, a proud nation at that, allow this to be (in the case of our armed forces) law?
The fact is, there isn’t an athlete or a proud member of our armed services who checks his or her sexual orientation at the player’s entrance or on the battlefield. Due to homophobia in the game of baseball and in our military, players and members of our armed forces have been forced to live double lives. Only those who have lived in the closet will understand the struggles these men and women deal with on a daily basis. Constantly lying about who you are takes on its own life, and the stigma placed on homosexuality makes it even harder.
Ever since Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball there have been players who are gay. That is the same with our armed forces. This will never change. The question is whether or not LGBT can be open about their sexual orientation and remain in the profession they truly love. We must realize that once the first step is made, and the stigma–and for that matter, the witch hunt–goes away, this story will be dead.