Semi-out: A gay sports broadcaster tells his story
I used to work as a sportswriter, and I got to know a handful of people in the industry who I stayed in touch with even after my day-to-day involvement petered out. My Q&A partner today is one of those people. He’s a former athlete and current sports broadcaster living and working in the South. In this conversation — which was very moving for me — we got at the nuance of what it means to be gay in a time when each progressive move society makes is met with a double helping of backlash.
We first met as colleagues, and all we knew about each other is that we like sports well enough to make a job out of talking about it. A good while later, we got to be good enough friends for you to tell me you are gay. How scary is that moment of telling someone, even someone you trust?
It’s honestly nervewracking, the whole coming out process. It was scary coming out even to myself. Coming out entails understanding yourself, which can be hard, and accepting yourself which can be damn near difficult. Even more so when you are in an environment where you’re not entirely sure of how you will be supported by friends, and of the utmost your own family.
Have you been able to come out to your family? Friends? Co-workers?
I went through a point, a breakup, which was hard on me and as I went through trying to talk about it with friends it was really annoying for me to sanitize the story so I just started coming out to friends, mainly over messages on tumblr or by text. I remember one friend in particular found out by me saying I was talking to a “person” instead of a girl haha. It took me a full year to actually say the words, “I’m gay” out loud to someone, one of my closest friends here, and it was my goal for the year of 2014. I accomplished it at the almost literal last minute of the year haha.
As 2015 rolled on, my goal was to live my life more openly. I have a core group of friends within this website and in my circle of friends that I hang out with over sporting events or food or whatever and I’m out to just about all of them, and I’ve been accepted which has honestly been one of the greatest things. Not being out, trying to hide part of your personality is not just restraining, it’s draining trying to keep up appearances at all times.
In my senior year of college, a few months before graduation after a lot of coming to terms with myself, with the support of a few close friends I gained the courage to come out to my parents, but did it over the phone literally an hour and a half or so right before going on air. I come from a family where I have a brother who I am very close to who is a pastor, my dad was the church choir director, I was the drummer, his brother is also a pastor. As you can assume it didn’t go well, so while I have four total siblings I haven’t come out to any of them because I know it won’t go well from the vibes that I’ve picked up just sensing and feeling things out.
We always think of “coming out” as throwing a door wide open. Has it been more comfortable for you to open it bit by bit?
It’s definitely been more comfortable to open the door bit by bit. (That last answer made me a bit emotional, I think.) While watching a match or whatever with friends how I managed to start coming out is making an offhand comment about whatever athlete or someone that I thought was a attractive, and once that door is opened and the understanding is there it’s easy to just keep moving forward. Now my friends ask me about my dating life or potential dates and it’s really cool to be able to have a “normal” rapport, you know?
Yes, and emotional seems like the least of what I’d be feeling if I was in your shoes. Now, since you work in sports, which can be a really conservative, homophobic realm, do you feel the need to stay “in” when you’re at work?
I really do feel that, for a couple reasons: Who I’m employed by, and geographically where I’m employed. I’ve made some really good friends within my office who I hang out with outside of usual work hours and I feel like I’m on the verge of being able to come out to them, but at the same time I remain highly paranoid of jeopardizing my job. With the fact that I am a prominent representation of my employer, whether it be over the air or in video form I remain just, so incredibly scared that if I were outed out of my control that I would be released because they wouldn’t want me to represent the company, or the fans would have such an issue that I would end up being forced out.
All I do is just try to do my job as best as possible to show my worth as a person, and not be discounted because I’m interested in guys.
Now that I’ve actually said/typed that I realize that’s so messed up, but it’s how I see it. Damn.
I think that’s what I wanted to get at. We’re kind of at a place where it’s almost considered cowardice not to come out, but the world is not as safe a place as we pretend it is. And we get reminders of that every day now.
I’m in a unique position where I have pretty good contact with a handful of listeners, whether talking to them over Twitter during/after broadcasts or at home events while doing other things related to my job and they always say they enjoy listening to me which is great, but I can just imagine how quickly that could all change.
Do you think perceptions could change if more athletes came out? It seems like it’s much more common for female athletes to be up-front about their sexuality, but for men, it’s still extremely frowned upon.
I dunno, I kind of feel like even if more (male) athletes were to come out I don’t think it’d make too much of a difference in society. They — just like me, a former athlete — just want to go out and wreck shit and be a badass, and be good at what they do, but as soon as they’re to mess up or get injured or do something that God forbid inconveniences a fan, I can just see the vitriol come in.
Damn, I really hate being so negative but I wish I could see it a different way. Look at the former Cardinals minor leaguer who came out and then discussed the homophobic language he heard from his teammates and coaches and the reaction from some of the people on the news coverage belittling him and invalidating his struggle, his life, his story.
Haha, sorry to make this depressing.
(The reality) IS still depressing. I do still want to give that kid out there who wants to do what you do some day the idea that he can do it, but I don’t want to lie about how hard it might be.
I mean, it’s not all bad, look at the US Women’s National Team. They’re one of the most out teams in their sport, won a third World Cup, and they got celebrated as heroes as they should have been.
As someone who understands football, do you think Michael Sam was actually not good enough for the NFL, or did he get that side-handed push out the door?
As far as Michael Sam goes, it’s so difficult to dissect the entire thing. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year in his senior year, and after he came out there was the whole media storm about it. Then there was the whole Dancing With The Stars… the CFL jaunt, and I don’t think he actually made it from preseason.
Robbie Rogers, on the other hand, came out, was embraced and is tearing it up for LA Galaxy.
It seems like the Jackie Robinson thing. You can be a trailblazer if you insist, but you better be DAMN GOOD at your job or it invalidates your courage.
I think it might have just been a story of the two cultures in the sports. For the record, I read Robbie’s book [Coming Out to Play] during a road trip for basketball and I ended up crying in a hotel room because of how much I could identify.
That’s pretty powerful.
See, I think that’s kind of it from my perspective. I want to prove that I’m good no matter what. I want to prove that I’m valuable, and I just want to be respected for my work.
A little about being a gay athlete: It’s literally the last thing I think about while I’m on the field, track, court, course whatever. I’m concerned about helping my team, and playing well myself.
As much as some people who have preconceived notions about LGBTQ people, on the field is where it matters the least. Nothing really matters at all out there except beating the person across from you.
And I’d imagine the same when you’re in a locker room for your job? I know that’s the first thing a homophobic athlete would say “Why you gotta be in here checking me out?”
Oh man, for sure. People thinking I’m out to get them is another thing that I think about.
A pro/con list can run so long
As a wrap, to piggyback on your initial point: that’s kind of why I’m here. While I went through my own coming out process, as someone strong in my faith you know you go through a lot of asking why, why am I gay, what am I supposed to do with this? And I’ve determined and kind of made it my goal to show that if I can make it then you can do it too. It’s not worth giving up on a dream just because you don’t date who society thinks you should. If you have the skills you deserve it.
Thanks, man. I have nothing but love and respect for you, and I hope everyone in your life realizes they feel the same.