BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Former Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy says he "just wants to take a deep breath" now that he no longer has to hide from the business and sports worlds that he's gay.
"I've been nervous the last few days," said McClatchy, chairman of the nation's third-largest media company, who publicly came out Saturday on The New York Times website. "I had a lot of phone calls to make to a lot of people who did not know my situation."
McClatchy, who owned and controlled the Pirates from 1996 to 2007, said that at age 49 it was finally time for him to come out.
"I wanted to go down that road but it had to be the right time," he said, hours after The Times published an op-ed piece by columnist Frank Bruni in which McClatchy revealed he is gay.
"For me it felt like the right time," McClatchy said. "Everyone is different for when it is the right time. Only the person going through it will know."
McClatchy expressed why, four months before his 50th birthday, he came out in such a public fashion:
"I hope in some small way that this article will create a dialog in sports. Dialog can lead to more understanding of the situation," he said. "There needs to be some education on the subject that will lead to more dialog and sensitivity. The emptiness you feel you can't talk about, I hope no kid in 2012 goes through that."
McClatchy said the discussion "needs to go down to the players and then go down to every coach, down to the college level, then down to the high school level."
That's his immediate goal.
"I hope -- I don't want to be overconfident -- that this discussion will happen," he said. "I have talked to executives, leadership in Major League Baseball. I've offered to assist them in any way to further the discussion."
McClatchy hopes someday he'll be joined in the discussion by a young gay ballplayer who comes out, too.
He believes that it would be much easier today for a gay player to come out than it was for African Americans who wanted to play professionally in the 1940s.
"What Jackie Robinson had to go through to break the color barrier, that was extreme," McClatchy said. "For gay players, not even close to it. In many ways, the player will be embraced by a lot of folks. There’s a lot more acceptance today than there was 15 years ago. There will be a lot more in five years."
Age makes the difference, he said.
"The more the players, especially the younger players, talk about these issues in a positive way ... a lot of the younger players in the league, they watch Modern Family. They saw Will & Grace. It’s a different time. It’s going to change. The power the players have to reinforce the positive message -- they have no idea the power in that. For that kid with a jersey hanging on his wall, if their favorite player comes out and says it's OK to be gay, that will mean so much to that kid."
Said McClatchy: "My hope will be that this article will be read by the high school player in Tennessee who thinks, ‘Can I have this career in baseball or will I go on leading a lie?’’’
During his tenure as Pirates owner, McClatchy avoided talk about his personal life and concentrated on leading the team and participating in Pittsburgh civic affairs.
He is a council member for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute; was co-chairman of the 2002 Field of Dreams Gala to benefit the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh; and honorary co-chairman in 2006 for a Muscular Dystrophy Association event.
Ten years ago, he served as chairman of the Greater Pittsburgh Council Boy Scouts of America “Scouting for Food” program.
The national organization prohibits gay youths and adults from being scouts or leaders.
McClatchy makes clear that he participated in just one Scouts food program event.
"I don’t want to get too political about organizations I don’t spend a lot of time around," he said. "I understand their policies are not that of acceptance and tolerance. That's not acceptable anywhere in America."
The McClatchy Co. owns 30 daily newspapers in 29 markets, including The Miami Herald. Kevin McClatchy isn't yet sure how -- or if -- his own coming-out might influence the company's news coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
"The simple answer is there could always be more to be done and more coverage," said McClatchy, who lives in Western Pennsylvania with his partner of four years, Jack Basilone, 31. They winter in Fort Lauderdale.
McClatchy grew up in Sacramento, where his family’s media empire is based. His father, C.K. McClatchy, ran the company from 1978 until his sudden death from a heart attack while jogging on April 16, 1989.
Shortly after C.K. McClatchy died at age 62, another Sacramento newspaper reported he carried the AIDS virus.
The Chicago Tribune then reported that the elder McClatchy was gay and, according to a local gay newspaper, survived by a male "friend" and several close relatives, including Kevin.
Kevin McClatchy on Monday declined to speak about his father’s private life.
"I don’t think it’s right for me to talk about his story. He passed away when I was 25 years old.
"What I’m doing the last few days is try to tell my story and how it relates to sports," he said. "I want this story to be about the awareness of gays and professional sports."