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ESPN Radio Host Comes Out on Air

by Kilian Melloy
Friday May 20, 2011
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An ESPN radio host has come out of the closet as gay--and he did it on the air, after asking his listeners whether they would support a gay athlete or a gay sports announcer, a May 20 SportsGrid article reported.

Jared Max, an announcer for New York station 1050 ESPN, broke the news to his audience on May 19.

"Will you still be able to root for your favorite player is you know he’s gay?" Max asked. "Are we ready to have our sports information delivered by someone who’s gay? Well you know what, we are gonna find out."

Max then laid it on the line, and came out of the closet in a dramatic statement that he delivered with professional calm.

"[F]or the last sixteen years, I’ve been living a free life among my close friends and family," Max told his listeners. "And I’ve hidden behind what is a gargantuan-sized secret here in the sports world: I am gay. Yeah. Jared Max, the sports guy, one of the most familiar voices in New York sports, isn’t quite like the majority."

The radio host’s announcement is the latest in a series of developments in the world of athletics. As a series of British athletes have emerged from the closet in recent months, in America it’s the sports commentators and team executives who are owning up to a formerly hidden truth about themselves that, not long ago, the sports world--stereotyped as homophobic--may not have accepted or tolerated.

Last Jan. 6, sports columnist Steve Buckley, who writes for the Boston Herald, outed himself in an article titled "Welcome to My Coming-Out Party." Buckley recounted how his mother encouraged him seven years ago to go public with the announcement he yearned to make, after having previously counseled him to keep his private life to himself. But before Buckley could act on her advice, his mother died.

Seven years later, Buckley chose to forge ahead--and out of the closet. The columnist wrote that he had "put this off long enough. I haven’t been fair to my family, my friends or my co-workers. And I certainly haven’t been fair to myself: For too many years I’ve been on the sidelines of Boston’s gay community but not in the game--figuratively and literally, as I feel I would have had a pretty good career in the (gay) Beantown Softball League."

Buckley went on to write that he had heard of cases in which gay people who had been outed committed suicide. "These tragic events helped guide me to the belief that if more people are able to be honest about who they are, ultimately fewer people will feel such devastating pressure," he wrote.

Buckley was immediately embraced by sports figures, his colleagues at the Herald, and the public at large.

More recently, Rick Welts, the president of the Phoenix Suns basketball team announced in the New York Times on May 15 that he is gay. "Welts is one of the most prominent figures active in sports to openly declare that he is gay, although there has yet to be an active player in the NBA, Major League Baseball or the NFL to make such a statement," a May 16 Associated Press article noted. "Some athletes have done so after their playing careers."

Although not associated with sports, another high-profile member of the media, CNN anchor Dan Lemon, also came out this week. Lemon’s disclosure coincided with the publication of his memoir, "Transparent."

Welts’ and Max’s public disclosures unfold against a backdrop in which heterosexual athletes are offering support and encouragement to gays. Two straight sports figures, Britain’s recently retired rugby pro Ben Cohen and All-American wrestler Hudson Taylor, have launched efforts to curb homophobia, and New York Rangers heterosexual hockey star Sean Avery has lent his voice to the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality video project.

Not all indications have been thumbs-up for gay members of the sporting world who might be mulling an exit from the closet, however. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter raised hackles--and howls-- earlier this year with an off-the-cuff remark about gay soccer fans remaining celibate during the 2022 World Cup finals if they intend to see the games in person, because the matches are scheduled to take place in the Muslim-dominated nation of Qatar. Not so long ago, a comment of that sort would have attracted little notice--except, perhaps, for a catcall or two of approval.

Similarly, Lakers star Kobe Bryant recently hurled an anti-gay epithet on the court in the heat of play. The comment cost the player a hefty fine--and an apology, which Bryant delivered quickly and with apparent sincerity.

Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell reportedly harangued several fans with anti-gay oaths and sexually explicit gestures--then menaced a father with a baseball bat while his young daughters clung to him--the result was a two-week suspension. McDowell also offered an apology, but critics noted that he did not say for what it was he was apologizing.

And although several pro athletes have come out of the closet in Britain recently, including rugby star Gareth Thomas and cricket pro Steven Davies, German soccer star Phillip Lahm offered a discouraging word when he told a German magazine that although he did not have a problem with gays, he would not advise any gay players to keep quiet: "An openly gay footballer would be exposed to abusive comments" from the fans, he warned.

It’s a concern that others voiced on behalf of Buckley, and one that Max also took note of as he continued his announcement live on the air.

"I’m taking this courageous jump into the unknown having no idea how I will be perceived," Max said, going on to say that he came out to his mother at age 21. "It was the worst night of my life, and also the best--it allowed me a future," the sports host recollected.

"I used to play for the team that, you know, the majority do," Max continued. "It’s probably what allowed me to remain undercover for so long, because I could talk the game. But it’s not a game of truth. If there’s one thing I learned back in high school, it’s the importance of a line written by Shakespeare: ’To thine own self be true.’ It’s always been a line I’ve stuck with."

Max went on to say that if he didn’t come out, "I’d be a phony." He added, "I don’t share this news with you today to get a reaction or to make news... I do this today because it seems to me there’s never been a better time. It’s been a subject I’ve toyed with tackling for years. I’ve been encouraged by other gay colleagues in the media to just do it, take the plunge."

Saying that it was "critical" that he feel he can be himself on his show, Max related that in college he went through "year of hell... suicidal thoughts on a regular basis, all because I thought I couldn’t live my dream because there was major road block" to his career as a sports commentator. That roadblock was his own sexuality. He recalled asking himself, "How can you be gay and also work in sports?" He recalled doubting that he’d be allowed into the locker rooms of professional athletic teams.

"But in all the years I’ve been inside pro locker rooms, the fact I’m gay has never been an issue, because I’ve never been in a locker room for any reason but to get the story," Max continued. "Certainly not to catch a peek or something stupid of that nature. I understand the concern--it’s ridiculous, though."

Max went on to say that in the year 2011, his sexuality should not matter--but his ability to be honest and spontaneous as a sports talk show host did. "If I was to continue hiding behind this secret," Max declared, "I’d be shorting myself, and you, the opportunity to grow. For me, an honest talk show host is what I want to be, and I’m an honest human being.... This is the one life I know I have. Life’s too short to let yourself to be silenced by ideology rooted in bigotry.

"So with that, my friends," Max concluded, "I invite you back to the show tomorrow morning, every weekday morning going forward. This subject will not be brought up again by me, because I really don’t think it has a place here... we’re tuning in for sports. This news I’ve dropped, this terrific-seized meatball, will hopefully mean the start of a life of freedom I’ve sought for decades."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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