Is Sandy Koufax gay?

Wait, that's not the issue. Last week's media storm was all about journalistic ethics. Wasn't it?

Published February 24, 2003 8:00PM (EST)

Sandy Koufax won't have anything to do with the Los Angeles Dodgers anymore because he's not gay. I also have nothing to do with the Dodgers, and I'm not gay, and there end all similarities between us.

Koufax ended his 48-year association with the Bums after a blind gossip item in the New York Post -- owned, like the Dodgers, by News Corp. -- said that the famously private Koufax, 67, is gay.

"Which Hall of Fame baseball hero cooperated with a best-selling biography only because the author promised to keep it a secret that he is gay?" the December item read. "The author kept her word, but big mouths at the publishing house can't keep from flapping."

This was one of those blind items that was about as blind as a peregrine falcon. The hero in question could only have been Koufax, and the bestselling biography can only be "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy" by former Washington Post writer Jane Leavy, the only "her" who's written a bestselling bio about a Hall of Famer lately.

Leavy called the item "blatantly unfair, scandalous and contemptible" and denied the charge. Koufax, who has been married twice and, according to Leavy, now "shares his life" with a woman, not that there's anything wrong with that, didn't show up last week at spring training in Vero Beach, Fla., where he lives, to work with Dodgers pitchers as he usually does. Reporters noticed, and his News Corp. boycott over the 2-month-old item became known. The Post, in an unusual move, retracted and apologized for the item Saturday.

I can understand why Leavy is upset. The Post called her a blackmailer, and how annoying for her that News Corp. doesn't just own the Post and the Dodgers, it owns HarperCollins, which published Leavy's book. Stabbed in the back by your own publisher. That's gotta sting, though I don't buy the idea of a vast News Corp. conspiracy that has the newspaper printing rumors from the publishing company as part of a plan to boost sales of a book that was already a bestseller. Different companies in a conglomerate cooperating in nefarious schemes is pretty far-fetched in the media world, where getting, say, the city desk and the national desk to talk to each other is a major achievement.

But what's the lefty so mad about? OK, he's a private guy and he feels violated, but didn't his hissy fit launch a thousand newspaper stories with his name in the headline? Would anyone have noticed this silly gossip item if Koufax had shown up at Dodgertown as though nothing had happened? In fact, nothing had happened. The item was published two months ago and was quickly forgotten. Had you been hearing people talk about it on the bus? Me neither.

Almost every one of those thousand newspaper stories expressed outrage at the Post for its sleazy journalism, and if you skim down each of them you invariably get to a passage that says something like, "Whether Sandy Koufax is gay or not isn't the issue. It doesn't matter if he's gay or straight or likes one-eyed teddy bears in lederhosen. What the Post did was wrong!"

And yet I can't help thinking that it matters very much whether Sandy Koufax is gay. Forgive me for not quite believing that journalistic integrity is more important to the American public than whether or not a major sports figure is gay.

What would Koufax's reaction have been if the rumor were that he had cheated on one of his wives, or had a gambling problem, or had settled lawsuits with household servants over continued verbal abuse? Miffed perhaps, but would he have severed all contact with the Dodgers, an organization he's been associated with since he was 19 years old?

Maybe so. I don't know Sandy Koufax except that I've never heard anyone say anything bad about him. But I know the American media, and I think the rush to the barricades in his defense might not have been so swift if the rumor were about Koufax being a creep to the help. All those writers who wrote that it doesn't matter whether Koufax is gay wouldn't have written that it doesn't matter whether he's abused a gardener. It would matter, wouldn't it?

Yet somehow the accusation that Koufax had done something really wrong wouldn't have seemed as outrageous as the accusation that he's gay, even though we all know there's nothing wrong with that.

Don't we?

The Post seems to be on a quest to out a baseball figure with blind but pretty obvious Page Six items. Hey, whatever floats your boat. Last summer it was Mike Piazza, who responded to a Page Six item by holding an impromptu press conference around the batting cage to announce that he is not gay. If anyone had asked Koufax about it, he could have said he's not gay or that he doesn't think it's anyone's business. And, uh, if it so doesn't matter whether he's gay or not, why would anyone have asked him about it?

Of course it matters. Gossip columns print all sorts of rumors about sports figures all the time. Why aren't we reading outraged columns about them?

He wasn't obligated to respond at all, and he hasn't, except to quit the Dodgers, but I wish Koufax, so widely admired, had said, "Well, maybe I am gay. What difference would that make?"

That might have made a difference. It might have showed people that being called gay isn't the same as being accused of a crime.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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