(This article was published in 2007).
Monday and Tuesday, July 23 to 24, I sat in the very large seat of former St. Louis Ram D’Marco Farr on his L.A.-based self-named radio show, nicknamed "DKLA." I’d been appearing on the show every Thursday as their “alternative lifestyle expert” for a few months, and have come to really enjoy Farr and his co-host, Kevin Kiley. I’d done a similar stint with Kiley on the wildly popular Fox Sports News show “Kiley & Booms” in 2002. When Kiley heard that Farr would be on vacation, he decided he wanted to try co-hosting with a gay guy for two days. I got the call and, as far as Kiley, producer Drew Belzer and I know, it was the first time ESPN Radio had an openly gay person host one of their shows, let alone in the No. 2 radio market in the country, for two days.
ESPN has been a champion of gay equality for years now. From reaching out to gay journalists to sponsoring the Gay Games, the company has, by their own admission, made it a priority to open their doors to people with different voices and unique perspectives. When Kiley, a wonderful straight ally, approached program director Larry Gifford about bringing me on, he was met with a near-automatic yes.
On the one hand, it wasn’t exactly groundbreaking radio. The topics of the two days I was there were virtually laid out for us. In what some at the station, and many since, have called “a first for American pro sports,” the three biggest professional leagues all had major press conferences and press releases within six hours on the same day. That Tuesday at 8 a.m., NBA commissioner David Stern addressed the media for over an hour, talking about the allegations against referee Tim Donaghy that he bet on basketball; At 1 p.m., in the first few minutes of our broadcast, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank held a press conference to announce his agreement (or disagreement, depending on how you heard it) with the NFL commissioner’s suspension (yes, I call it a suspension) of Michael Vick; an hour after that, MLB commish Bud Selig announced he would try (or rather, hope he wouldn’t be able) to make it to Bonds’ record-breaking performance.
“That was the craziest day of sports news I have ever seen,” Kiley said when we took our headphones off at the end of the last hour.
We talked those three topics to death, spurred a bunch of phone calls, and gave people up-to-the-minute information. Good journalism and some good fun; just not revolutionary.
On the other hand, it was groundbreaking. No, it wasn’t Jackie Robinson playing in the Major Leagues or Jesse Owens winning in Berlin. What it was was a gay man taking hold of ESPN Radio for two days, sharing his thoughts on sports and not being afraid to let his taste, life and sexual orientation slip across the airwaves into the car radios of thousands of mostly straight people, many of whom, despite living in Southern California, probably hadn’t given much credence to the notion that a gay man could hold his own in a sports conversation with a sports-media pro with 20 years of experience.
The power of it was, in part, the fact that we were able to engage in just (pardon the expression) “straight” sports talk. I’m gay, Kiley’s straight, and for two days we bantered back and forth about sports and life the way we have before on the phone, and the way I have with so many of my straight friends over the years. When talk hit on Vick’s legal troubles, I mentioned the strong affinity so many gay people have to their animals. The scandal involving Donaghy led me to comment on his most attractive qualities (for the record, great pecs and a cute nose). I even got to flirt on air with the show’s hunky (but very straight and very married) producer, Belzer (left).
But the most rewarding part of the two days didn’t come from the emails I got afterward (100% positive and supportive) from gay people who’d heard me on the radio and wanted to thank me (though, truth be told, they should be thanking Kiley, Gifford, Belzer and ESPN). The biggest reward I got came on the first day in the form of a call from a listener I’m assuming is straight named Rodney.
We were talking about Barry Bonds’ potential record-breaking visit to Dodger Stadium. Kiley asked whether I’d rip the record-breaking ball out of a 12-year-old’s hand if I had the chance. I said no; he (and most of the barbaric callers) said he’d rip the kid’s arm off to get the ball. (Note to parents: Do not sit with your children inside the foul poles at any San Francisco Giants games until the record is broken).
Rodney: “I want to send kudos to your guest. I really enjoyed your interview with him a couple weeks ago. Very interesting topic, very insightful, and I really appreciate what you’re doing for sport. You’re giving a lot of knowledge, and I hope it’s getting a lot of other people more introspective about pro sports.”
Me: “Well thank you. I think most people think that gay people have no idea what the difference between a soccer ball and a basketball is. But the fact of the matter is, we’re just like everybody else.”
Kiley: “Ya think?”
Me: “Yeah, except we wouldn’t take the ball out of some kid’s hand at the bottom of the pile.”
That launched us into a brief chat about gay sports leagues, the Gay Superbowl, and this idea that “gay people are just like everybody else.”
And after exactly 86 seconds of “gay” stuff, it was back to mainstream sports talk.
One particular member of the Outsports Discussion Board is a sports-radio talk show host at Sirius. He is often bemoaning how hard it is to get ahead as a gay man in sports radio. That certainly wasn’t my experience. I know two different openly gay men who’ve passed through the halls of ESPN radio (and I’m sure there are many more). And if me being on-air for two days somehow helped a gay person feel a little comfort by hearing a voice like his on the air, then I guess I did my job.
But the thing I loved the most about those two days was that it had nothing to do with any political statement. It was about good radio, about being entertaining, about being informative, and it was one of the most educational experiences of my life. I have every indication that ESPN Radio saw it exactly the same way.
Now if I can just get an interview with Jeremy Bloom next time I’m on – you know, to talk about the Philadelphia Eagles and his chances of getting the starting kick-returning job – then my mission will be complete.