Jeff Pearlman is getting a lot of pub for his new book, “Boys Will Be Boys,” which deals with the 1990s Cowboys that won three Super Bowls and partied as well as they played. In an interview with the New York Times, Pearlman rips former Dallas columnist Skip Bayless for speculating on Aikman’s sexual orientation in his 1996 book “Hell-Bent.”
Dave Smith, the former Dallas Morning News sports editor, said of Skip Bayless: “His gay take on Aikman was the most unfair thing in my forty-five years of journalism.” Can you explain your feelings about Bayless?
Well, as a pure writer I think Bayless is an amazing talent; one of the best of this generation, skill-wise. But what he did with Aikman was truly wrong, and I think Smith’s characterization is right on the money. First off, he couldn’t have been sure Aikman was gay, because everything he was dealing with was speculation and gossip. Second, even if he knew, for a 100% fact, that Aikman was gay, you only write it if the man wants his sexuality out there. We do a lot of questionable things in this business-make tough choices every day of what to go with, what not to go with. But outing someone? And he’s not even gay? Evil. Absolute evil.
News flash to Pearlman: You can’t out someone who is not gay; it’s nonsensical. (From Webster’s on outing: “The public disclosure of the covert homosexuality of a prominent person.”) Speculation does not equal outing. Bayless was not the only one who speculated about Aikman back then; even his coach Barry Switzer mentioned it (some say as a vendetta against Aikman) and it was a common topic of conversation among NFL fans. Gay researcher and professor Eric Anderson has told Outsports that the most-asked question he used to get from his students was, “Is Troy Aikman gay?” Journalists speculate freely about drug use and the sex-capades of jocks and that’s OK. But suggesting someone might be gay makes them “evil?”
As I wrote two years ago:
Aikman denied he was gay, but his PR team at the time went through some elaborate lengths to prove his heterosexual bona fides. It seems that every few months Aikman was linked to some actress or another. And in the strangest story I ever read in Sports Illustrated, the author detailed Aikman’s quest for love and how he just couldn’t find the right woman.
Titled “Mr. Lonelyhearts” (Jan. 15, 1996), the story was a 5,417-word personal ad, with a sub-headline that read: “SWM, TALL, HANDSOME, 29, PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER, SEEKS BEAUTIFUL, INTELLIGENT YOUNG WOMAN TO HELP DESIGN DREAM HOUSE AND CREATE FAMILY EQUIVALENT OF AMERICA’S TEAM. MUST LIKE QUIET EVENINGS AT HOME, EITHER CRUISING AMERICA ONLINE OR ADMIRING TROPICAL FISH TANK. MUST SPEND SUNDAYS IN CROWDED STADIUMS ROOTING FOR DALLAS COWBOYS. DISLIKE OF 49ERS AND REDSKINS A PLUS, BUT NOT REQUIRED.”
Aikman has since married and has three children and is the lead analyst on Fox’s NFL coverage. So it is clear these rumors had zero effect on the quarterback’s ability to raise a family or earn a living.
But to Pearlman, what Bayless did was “absolute evil.” To me, this is misplaced moral outrage that is supposed to pass for tolerance.
What helps perpetuate homophobia is this idea that to merely speculate someone might be gay is wrong, as it equates homosexuality with something terrible. In 2004, a federal judge ruled that “stating that someone is homosexual does not amount to libel or slander, particularly in light of new court decisions granting gays more rights.” Is this ruling also “absolute evil?”
As the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination said at the time about the Bayless-Aikman flap: “Speculation about Troy Aikman’s sexual orientation is not the problem. The problem is homophobia perpetuated by the NFL and biased journalism.”