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Hall of Famer Michael Irvin helping tear down homophobia

My afternoon in Dallas with Michael, Kevin Kiley and Nate Newton

By Cyd Zeigler jr.

Since the NFL’s week 1 in early September, I’ve made a weekly appearance on The Michael Irvin Show on ESPN’s 103.3 FM in Dallas. Every week I go on, we talk about a topic that’s usually somehow gay-related, and then I pick some games against the spread.


(l-r) Show producer Clarence, my partner Dan, Kevin Kiley, Michael Irvin, me, Nate Newton, SportsCenter anchor RJ Choppy

Michael’s co-host, Kevin Kiley, is the one who brought me onto the show, as I’d been a regular guest on his Kiley & Booms Show in 2002, and then his DeMarco Farr Show with Kevin Kiley in 2007. Every week, Michael and Kevin have welcomed me onto the show with open arms; This week, we were actually able to embrace for the first time, as my cross-country move to Los Angeles took me to Dallas on Dec. 23. They invited my partner, Dan, and me into the studio for the whole three hours of the show. While the show is usually Cowboys, Cowboys, Cowboys, with some other NFL and a little Mavericks mixed in, on Tuesday we spent half the show talking about gay issues. And it was all happening on ESPN, with one of the highest-profile Hall of Fame players alive today, in Dallas, Texas.

Listeners who were calling, texting and emailing during the show had a range of reactions. A woman from Oklahoma called in to say how much she was enjoying the conversation; She called it a gift from God. A Dallas man called in to say he felt it was time for people to stop persecuting gay people and embrace our differences. And then, of course, there were a slew of messages from listeners attacking Michael and Kevin for putting on all the “gay stuff” and damning gay people’s sexuality and Michael’s Christianity for “promoting the gay lifestyle.” Others demanded they get back to just talking sports. Some were just nasty.

Through it all, Michael and Kevin repeated over and over and over that those messages wouldn’t change what they were doing. They are intent on building a sports show that doesn’t just run through the scores, celebrate victories and lament losses, but rather one that talks about life. They talk about race all the time on the show; And when I’m on, they talk about gay issues. In fact, they’ve gotten so comfortable with the topic that they banter about gay topics when it’s just the two of them in the studio.

But they don’t just talk about gay issues, they advocate for understanding. While these two men have every reason to be homophobic (grew up in homophobic households and immersed in American football culture all their lives), they are both incredibly compassionate, understanding men who don’t hate gay people but welcome them into their lives. They use their pulpit on the radio to spread understanding between people, and they are both committed to creating a more welcoming, loving world for gay people.

They do it by challenging homophobes to think about gay people in a different way. It’s one of the main reasons they have me on every week: When a gay guy gets on the radio and breaks down the Jets-Seahawks game in a way that is intelligent and football-savvy, listeners start questioning their stereotypes about gay people. They call into the show and question Michael’s Christianity because he isn’t homophobic; And Michael fires right back about what it really means to be Christian. Listeners write in about the inherent sin of gay people, and Kevin reads them on air with disgust, rolling his eyes with his voice.

On Tuesday, they were amazing. They opened their listeners’ ears with personal questions about my relationship with Dan, our family lives, who cooks and who cleans, who watches football, and the rings on our fingers. They presented us to their listeners as another loving couple who laugh and cry and live together, and who just want to be treated like every other loving couple in this country.

I asked Michael what his thoughts were on gay marriage. He sat there for a moment and said he just hadn’t given it much thought; It’s an issue that simply hadn’t touched his life personally, so he just hadn’t formulated an opinion. But he thought for a moment and said that he didn’t think it was anyone’s role to tell someone else how to live their life or to judge them.

Regular show guest and former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Nate Newton also talked about his unwillingness to judge gay people, instead focusing on his own demons and perceived shortcomings.

They also asked us about politics and our views on religion and how the church has persecuted gay people. We spent a whole segment talking about Proposition 8 and gay marriage and how religious conservatives spent $35 million to remove our rights. They invited listeners to call in, and together we challenged those listeners who felt gay people didn’t deserve a place in society, let alone Dallas’ No. 1 sports show. On ESPN. With a Hall of Famer.

Kevin believes Michael is one of the most influential former NFL players alive today, and for good reason. He’s a Hall of Famer with a bigger-than-life personality who knows how to speak publicly and move people. There are very few men alive today who can claim that. He’s also black and is, as Michael says, a “brutha.” To have that man – a black, devout Christian, NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver with three Super Bowl rings – talking about gay issues with love, support and charity is a deeply powerful gift. I didn’t quite understand Michael’s influence or the opportunity sitting in my living room 1,500 miles away talking with him and Kevin for 15 minutes a week; But after three hours on the show on Tuesday, I get it completely.

In the Michael Irvin Show, gay people have some incredible allies: A 350-pound black-as-night former Pro Bowler ; A former WFL player and respected sports journalist and personality; And a Hall of Fame wide receiver and vocally devout Christian, who can quote scripture on any subject. These men don’t personally have much to gain from this: They aren’t gay, they don’t have family members who are gay (that I know of), and no one is clamoring for them to advocate on these issues. Some would say they have only fans and potential endorsement deals to lose because of it.

But over the last few months, and last week in particular, they all gained a big fan in me. These are the kinds of men we need stepping up for us. That they've done it and done it without apology makes them, in my eyes, heroes.