Story from Aug. 28, 2004
I had gotten wind of a media opportunity with Olympic medalists Paul and Morgan Hamm, just a block away from my apartment in Manhattan, through my editor at the New York Blade (in addition to running Outsports.com, I am also the associate editor of the Blade). On their way back from Athens, the Hamms were scheduled to be at Chelsea Piers, the largest sports complex in New York City, on Thursday, Aug. 26, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m..
So I RSVP'd and went to the event, camera, pad and pen in hand, and arrived just before 10 as the twins were finishing up a TV interview. There were about a dozen photographers, another dozen TV crewmembers and a smattering of print journalists.
I immediately asked the athletes' agent, Sheryl Shade, if I could get 60 seconds with them.
"Sure, I'm sure that's fine," she said to me as she was making a phone call on her cell phone. After a few minutes, I was told the brothers were being taken downstairs to talk with a group of kids from a gymnastics camp, but they would return for more interviews.
After an inspiring question-and-answer session with the 6-year-olds, the brothers went back to the media area. They immediately began doing another TV interview.
I asked one of the men from the PR agency whether I would be able to talk with them. When he asked me what paper I was from, I told him the New York Blade.
"Uh, I'll have to check," he said.
Another reporter I had been talking to - from the New York Daily News - had gotten wind of an interview session with the Associated Press and other print journalists. As the Hamms were walking into the soundproof room, along with several other journalists, I asked if I could sit in on it as well.
The man from the PR agency to whom I had spoken earlier approached Keith Sherman, the head of the agency.
"Can the New York Blade sit in on this?" I overheard him ask.
"No," Sherman replied instantly.
When all was said and done, every print journalist left there had been allowed into the interview, except for me.
Sherman approached me several minutes later and said he was sorry, but only sports reporters were allowed in the interview.
I told him I am a sports reporter.
"Oh," he replied. It obviously hadn't occurred to him that someone could be a sports reporter from a gay publication. "Well, I'm sorry."
I then asked him if it was because I was from a gay publication. He said it wasn't. I asked him why I wasn't going to be able to talk with them.
"I'm sorry, we're running out of time," he said as he walked away to join the interview.
After the 15-minute interview (which he had said would be "seven or eight minutes"), I asked one of the women in the room if she was a sports reporter. She said she was not.
The twins did another TV interview and were whisked away by Sherman, with Shade in tow.
While they "had" to leave by 11 a.m., they stopped to talk to Roland Betts, the owner of Chelsea Piers and a member of the United States Olympic Committee, at 10:59. That conversation lasted eight minutes - quite leisurely for a group that was "out of time" and had to "get to the airport." Then they took some photos with a group of kids. That took two more minutes.
At 11:10, they finally headed to their car.
I left as well, pretty upset and wondering how I could be discriminated against yet again in the sports world. Then the kicker: I saw the Hamms, Shade and Sherman being followed by another man who had come at the very end of their stint at Chelsea Piers. I saw him take out a notebook and start asking them questions. Once he was finished (it was now 11:14), I asked him if he got to talk with them.
"Yeah, I got 90 seconds with them," he said. That was even more than the time I had initially requested - 60 seconds. He also said he had just gotten there and that Sherman had told him he could interview the young men on their walk to the car - er - SUV.
At the end of it, I was the only person who was rejected for an interview. Sherman said it wasn't because I was gay, but the writing is on the wall. I was rejected from the group interview because I was from the New York Blade - which every PR person in town knows is a gay paper.
All I wanted to ask the Hamms were two questions.
First: "Thanks to Terrell Owens, people are again talking about gays in sports. How would you feel about having a gay teammate?"
Then: "Long before Athens, you had a strong gay following. What do you think about that?"
If he's reading this, Sherman is surely very glad that he kept me from asking the Hamms those questions.
I think they missed an opportunity. While Paul is warding off attacks on his gold medal, and while Morgan is trying to find a place for himself as "the other Hamm brother," their answers to those two softball questions could have been an amazing affirmation of a large portion of their fan base.
I imagined them telling me that they didn't care about someone's sexuality, and that they welcomed anyone as their fans. I thought they'd tell me that a teammate is like a family member - you support him whatever he may be. I wondered if they'd smile and jest or talk seriously and with care. I assumed a negative response wasn't even possible from these two young men.
What was worse than a bad response, though, was that I didn't even get to ask the questions. People wonder why more athletes don't get asked about these issues - this is part of why. The handlers and the agents and the managers are so crazy about "protecting" their clients that they forget about things like fairness, open-mindedness and equal access. Because "gay" and "sports" aren't supposed to mix, they don't let them.
Keeping in form, a representative of Keith Sherman & Associates did not return a call for comment.
There are other possibilities, I guess. But, when Sherman tells me there's no time left and lets another reporter (who just got there) talk to them, and then has them spend 10 minutes talking to people and taking pictures, it certainly seems strange. And when he tells me that only "sports reporters" were allowed in the interview and then allows at least one non-sports reporter and then, upon finding out I'm a sports reporter, doesn't let me in the room, you begin to worry.
His reaction to hearing that I was from the Blade, to me, said it all: "No."
I'm sure the Hamm brothers are very nice. I just wish we gay people were given the same opportunity to find that out.
Hamms' Press Rep Responds
Dear Cyd Zeigler, Jr.:
Your August 30 news story, "Handled Badly," has garnered a great deal of unpleasant emails from your readers to my inbox. How could they know that I am a proud, out gay man who has done the press work for hundreds of gay themed projects? How could they know our entire staff is gay? How could your readers know that I am a kindred spirit who works hard to fight homophobia, that their assumptions and accusations are far from the truth?
I am perplexed why you didn¹t balance your story with comments from our August 27 letter to your editor. It¹s no wonder why your readers thought the worst, but it simply isn¹t true. Nevertheless, I think we must agree to disagree why your interview with Paul and Morgan Hamm did not happen at Chelsea Piers on August 26.
From my perspective, there were more than two dozens news outlets, among other obligations, including an important meeting with a USOC member which you mentioned. Morgan and Paul simply ran out of time on the way to catch a plane. But that didn¹t prevent Michael Musto and Next Magazine from getting their stories that afternoon. The reporter who got 90 seconds walking with the brothers on the way to the car is from Reuters and we¹ve worked together on dozens of stories. Thinking as publicist, how would you choose between a reporter who reaches millions internationally and a local targeted weekly?
As the press representative for some of the most in demand interview subjects in the country today, we make judgment calls regularly about where our clients spend their time. Believe me, you are not the only journalist upset with us because you didn¹t get the interview you wanted. You are, however, the only reporter ever to call me homophobic. If it weren¹t so upsetting, it might be amusing.
We are both gay professionals who work together yet we represent different interests. Our community has made great strides: we can be openly gay as well as competitive, vital and respected professionals. But to publicly play the "homophobia card" when we encounter obstacles does not help to maintain our community's strength. It divides us, alienates us and reduces us to being victims.
2004 Rock & Roll Gymnastics Championships Tour