Living a life of authenticity is now a right, not a privilege with yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling. While it was a huge milestone, we’re not done yet. Next on the agenda is acceptance and equality in other areas, like sports.
This repost is in recognition of two very important people in my life, Frankie Paré and Steve Buckley.
My brother, Frankie, is the greatest brother on Earth. He’s never been “my gay brother.” He’s just one of my best friends. Likewise, Steve is one of my closest friends, a mentor and one of the smartest people I know. He also happens to be gay.
I would introduce both Frankie and Steve as my heroes, and I’m proud to share these thoughts in their honor.
The day I almost quit baseball was the same day that my older brother, Frankie, decided he didn’t want to play anymore.
It was 2001, a beautiful New England spring day, and my brother and I were playing in the purple lilac bushes in our yard with our next-door neighbor, Jason. Most likely, we were playing some type of sword-fighting game with wiffle ball bats.
Our mother came out from the house to tell us to stop whatever we were doing because we had to leave for Little League tryouts.
My brother and I, as well as our sister, Katie, are very close in age. Being the middle child, I’m 18 months apart from both of them. Because of this small age gap, Frankie and I pretty much did everything together — baseball being one of those things.
Growing up, Frankie was much more athletic and naturally talented. He was fast, had a great arm, and actually put the ball in play, unlike me. After a successful 2000 season in “minors” at Deering Little League, when I didn’t swing the bat once (yeah, literally not once), it was time for 10-year-old me to move up to play with kids my brother’s age.
I would be leaving the Hall Elementary School field, where the “minor league” teams played. I’d be traveling down the street to the “major league” fields, near the high school I would eventually attend.
Leading up to the day of tryouts, I had been hoping my brother and I would be picked by the same major league team since we were on different teams in the minors. In my mind, the main reason I loved baseball was because it was something I could do with my brother.
After being told multiple times to go inside and put on baseball clothes, my brother said he didn’t want to go to the tryouts. I always did whatever my big brother did, so I didn’t want to go either.
When our mom asked Frankie why, he said the kids who played baseball were mean and that he didn’t fit in with them. It would be many years later before I understood what he was actually trying to say.
I somehow mustered enough courage to go to the tryout without him, and eventually was picked by Pat’s Meat Market, a team that had a couple friends of mine on it. At that point, though, Frankie and I started to take on different interests.
Fast forward a few years. Frankie attended a private high school his freshman year. He was brave enough to join the ski team even though he was a novice, while the majority of kids had been in ski clubs their whole lives.
That school was short lived for Frankie. As he described it, “If Mean Girls was going to have a sequel, that school would be the perfect setting.”
His sophomore year, he transferred to Portland High School, which proved to be a diverse environment with 1,000 students coming from 41 countries and speaking 26 languages.
He took up lacrosse and track & field. He loved music and was an extremely talented pianist. I’ll never forget attending a production of the musical South Pacific, in which he had a supporting role. Playing the part of a Cuban waiter, he actually stole the show with his acting and singing abilities.
I was pretty much a one-trick pony, playing just one sport and strumming a guitar at a below-average level. I was in awe of Frankie. He tried so many different things, and in my mind he excelled at all of them. Although he was talented in many activities, he kept bouncing from one to the next so often just to try to find a place to “fit in.”
Even though Frankie was a natural athlete, he still felt like he didn’t belong in a sports environment. The other day, I asked him his thoughts on this and he said, “In high school, I was just trying to fit in. I was trying to prove to myself that I could be like everyone else.”
One day in May of 2006, my brother showed more courage than I could ever dream of having. I had just gotten back from school and saw piece of paper with my brother’s handwriting on the kitchen island.
It was his coming out note to our family. He wrote it as if we would reject his sexuality.
I did the first thing any adolescent does when they don’t know what to do next — I called my mom. When I told her the contents of the note, she completely ignored the part about him being gay, as if she had already known (a mother’s intuition, I suppose). She was only worried that Frankie, who was planning to attend a cousin’s graduation party in Massachusetts, would be making the 150-mile trip alone.
When my brother returned, we embraced his sexuality. His fear came from the uncertainty of acceptance, which is something we all fear, regardless of sexual orientation.
If I didn’t even know my own brother was gay, how would I have known the sexuality of other people in my life — such as one of my teammates?
A few days ago, Billy Bean, MLB’s Ambassador for Inclusion, spoke to us at the Giants’ Minor League Complex. He is one of only two major league baseball players, current or former, to be publicly out as gay.
His job is to help Major League Baseball connect with the LGBTQ community and create programs to prevent homophobia and sexism in the sport.
From his talk, I had two major takeaways that can be applicable to any individual’s life, regardless of sexuality. First was to utilize your support systems. Bean said the one regret he had was that he didn’t turn to his family, friends and teammates when he was struggling to understand his sexuality.
The other point he preached was acceptance. If there is not a quality environment, then no player will feel comfortable coming out to his teammates and coaches.
I’m going to take this one step further and add a third point that he did not discuss — eliminating “casual homophobia.”
“Words and phrases like ‘faggot,’ ‘dyke,’ ‘no homo,’ and ‘so gay’ are used casually in everyday language, despite promoting the continued alienation, isolation and — in some tragic cases — suicide of sexual and gender minority (LGBTQ) youth.
We no longer tolerate racist language, we’re getting better at dealing with sexist language, but sadly we’re still not actively addressing homophobic and transphobic language in our society.”
If my brother had played in a more accepting sports environment with less casual homophobia, I wonder what kind of athlete he could have become. Those are the kind of “what ifs” that I want to help eliminate for other athletes.