Thursday, May 29, 2014

Florida publisher, a formerly closeted athlete, pens memoir

by Chuck Colbert

Publishers of LGBT publications come from any number of backgrounds, including activism, journalism, law and business. But none has yet to come to gay media publishing quite like an acclaimed former professional tennis coach.

Meet Bobby Blair, publisher of Ft. Lauderdale-based Florida Agenda and Guy Magazine, and now author of “Hiding Behind the Baseline,” a coming out memoir about a closeted gay athlete and coach in the 1980s and 1990s.
Blair was a top-ranked junior and collegiate player who went professional for five years and then enjoyed a successful coaching career.

“I spent so many years in the closet during my tennis career as a player and a coach,” he said during a recent phone interview, “and all during that time I was completely in hiding and living straight and dating girls. I just felt that had I just come out, I would have been able to do so much in those days to make a difference.”
Florida Agenda publisher, and author of
"Hiding Behind the Baseline,"
Bobby Blair

As Blair started to come out in Ft. Lauderdale, he realized, “I had such an interesting story to tell, and I felt I could help people not to waste their lives away. Here I was, in my forties and not living my truth, not living an honest life. I felt, how can I be a credible and legitimate publisher, how could I make a difference in the LGBT community? How could I reach out to straight people who have gay kids and family members, gay friends, gay employers or employees? How could I help make a difference toward equality and acceptance?”

Altogether, Blair said of his motivation for writing “Hiding Behind the Baseline,” “What is the best way for me to apologize to the LGBT community for not being out, for not being a role model for all those years? I could have made a difference. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice and just be a low-profile publisher.”

And so, “I decided to tell my story, and it made a real difference.”

Released earlier this year by Making a Difference Publishing, “Hiding Behind the Baseline” chronicles the decades long struggles and turmoil — if not inner angst — inherent in inauthentic living.

And yet, as the book’s promotional literature puts it, “This story has the star power and life lessons to empower and inspire LGBT athletes to live their truth, while also encouraging family, friends, teachers, coaches, sponsors and the fans to better understand the importance to accept and embrace all people as they strive to achieve their goals personally and professionally while living their truth.”

Reviewers of the book agree, noting the power and reach of “Hiding Behind the Baseline” goes well beyond the sport of tennis.

LZ Granderson, an openly gay journalist and commentator for CNN and ESPN, offered his thoughts in a short statement. “It is said that courage isn’t the absence of fear but the fortitude to confront fear. And as long as homophobia continues to be an accepted element of the locker room culture and homophobic language a coach’s motivational tool, we can never dismiss the courage it takes for an athlete, on any level, to be openly gay. Bobby Blair may not be a household name, but his journey — from frightened collegiate athlete to empowered advocate — is one that has an important lesson for anyone who believes in the unifying power of sports.”

Billie Jean King, a former World No. 1 professional tennis player, also voiced praise. “Bobby Blair is committed to providing a safe and confidential support team for LGBT athletes around the globe and by sharing his own experiences and showing how important it is to live your truth. I know he will make a major impact in the lives of those he reaches through his foundation and his new book.”

Through Blair’s foundation, he has launched a mentoring program that will assist and guide LGBT athletes in pursuit of living their truth. In other words, the program aims to assist athletes in the coming out process.

In anguishing over coming out or not, Blair did not want to let anyone down. “My uncle, Dick Rosenthal, was the athletics director at Notre Dame. He married my dad’s sister, and so I could not let my Catholic family down, didn’t want to let my uncle down,” said Blair. “There were so many things gnawing at me. I didn’t want to disrespect my mother who died of cancer when I was 18 and was an incredible Catholic. I never wanted to let my sick mom down with this truth of being gay,” Blair added, pointing to a chapter in the book that deals with that piece of his life story.
Sure enough, along the way, the messages from Catholicism were not helpful to a young man trying to find his way. “I just heard [homosexuality] was a sin and mental sickness,” said Blair.  

The effect of Catholic Church negativity on him, he said, “Guilty, guilty, guilty. I felt so wrong. I felt dirty. I felt like I was going to hell. And I felt like I wasn’t a good person.”

Over time, despite his “childhood upbringing,” Blair came to see “there is no way God would create me and give me the talents he gave me not to enjoy the fruits of heaven.”

Nonetheless, he said, “I still deal with that, and it takes all in my power to believe that I will go to heaven. It took a long time to believe that.”

These days, Blair’s faith “is stronger than ever as I finally believe I am living the life God gave me. What got me through tough times was Robert Schuller in younger years and today Joel Osteen,” both televangelists.
In all, “There were so many reasons that I didn’t come out, and they are all explained in the book,” said Blair.
But for one thing, he is perhaps most grateful. That is the love and support of his famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, whom “I loved so much and [who] took me from my home at age 14 when my mom was dying of cancer and my dad was broke and gave me a life before I was anybody on this planet,” said Blair. “For a tough-as-nails military guy and a hard-core personality male, to say ‘I love you and don’t give a crap [that you are gay],’ that changed my life. Nick was not the only person who loved and embraced me on this planet for who I am, but his OK gave me the biggest sigh of relief and boost to live my truth.”

Consequently, “I could live my life with my head on my shoulders.”

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