My work as a young sports broadcaster is fulfilling. When I’m doing play-by-play, I enjoy being in the moment of the action, knowing listeners are dependent on my every word to know what’s going on. Telling the story of the game accurately is a challenge I look forward to meeting and surpassing. It beats just getting a paycheck.
However, there are many stories not involving sports that are much more affecting. Take, for instance, some of the life experiences I’ve heard from young LGBTQ+ people while volunteering in my part of Oregon. They were so powerful they moved me to come out by writing this article.
One of these people came out as transgender to his parents — after he was born a girl, originally came out as a lesbian, and abused plenty of drugs before finally getting his act together. Now his parents, deeply religious, accept him completely for who he is. He’s almost done with high school and has a bright future ahead.
Another served in the military. She signed up to go to Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Army bomb squad because she thought it was the manliest thing possible to do. She wanted to die and expected to. She wanted to block out the feeling that she was a woman trapped in a man’s body. Now, after multiple struggles with depression, anxiety, and suicide, she’s living happily and going to college. She even makes videos on YouTube and is in the process of creating her own college courses on how to talk and interact with transgender individuals.
Coming out from behind the camera
Sports cameraman Scott Winer has worked the biggest sports in America. It was his shot of the Arkansas State fake punt that went viral. He opens up about being gay, his dream job in the pros and years of dealing with sexual assault.
Yet another is an out lesbian who grew up in a deeply conservative Christian family. She lost nearly all of her friends and most of her family when she came out. However, she resolved to begin fresh. Now she has a wonderful life with her partner of three years and doesn’t look back.
I heard these and many other stories since I started volunteering at the Lotus Rising Project, a local organization based out of Medford, Oregon, dedicated to improving the lives of local LGBTQ+ youth. I continue to be amazed at how much they have not only strived to better themselves, but have also stayed true to who they are and admitted a lot of their story publicly so they can inspire others.
They’ve inspired me to do the same thing.
My name’s Max Milander. I’m an up-and-coming play-by-play sports broadcaster. Since graduating from college last year, I get paid for doing what I love. My ultimate goal is to be the on-air voice of an NBA team.
I’m also gay.
This combination might seem a bit strange. I get it. I never envisioned myself admitting both facts in tandem on a website, especially this early in my life.
You might even consider me crazy. The fact is that I’m used to hearing it. Pursuing your most sought-after dream might be the craziest thing you can do while still feeling sane.
My broadcasting career began at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. I started with a handheld voice recorder and a set of headphones rehearsing my calls of Linfield basketball games as a freshman. By the time I got to my senior year, I had enough experience calling Linfield sports to the point where I could say I can broadcast football, basketball, baseball, softball, and soccer with confidence.
The day after I got my diploma, I was already on the air as the newest voice of the Medford Rogues, a college wood-bat baseball team in the West Coast League. Now I’m a play-by-play announcer for high school sports in the Medford area and an assistant program director for a local radio group.
They call Medford a small market. Ironically enough, it’s the biggest town I’ve ever lived in. My hometown is Seaside, Oregon, which is a small coastal town known for being a tourist haven, especially in the summer. For the most part, it was a wonderful, beautiful atmosphere for growing up. However, it’s still somewhat behind the curve when it comes to gay issues.
At my high school, there’s now a stable gay-straight alliance, but when I went there they would come and go. The few students who were out of the closet weren’t looked at as popular — they weren’t blatantly put down, but the unspoken impression was that they weren’t cool. And, of course, the words "fag" and "faggot" were tossed around often. I definitely knew I didn’t want to be called either one.
It never got to that. My 4.0 GPA and eventual valedictorian status was always there to keep away most of the possible mercenaries in the hallways. I was respected for being smart.
As a sports enthusiast from a young age, out role models weren’t easy for me to find growing up. No one in my neck of the woods had really heard of an openly gay professional athlete even then. And as for an out broadcaster, forget it. If you’re in the know, Jared Max from ESPN radio (now with WCBS radio) came out in 2011, but I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t even know about Outsports.com until I stumbled across the book, "The Outsports Revolution," in a bookstore.
I could only assume that because I loved sports, and because all the professional athletes were apparently straight, I must also be straight. I even dated a girl for a while.
Things weren’t easy. The more I denied my feelings, the stronger those feelings got. The stronger they got, the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the more anxious I felt about the rest of my life. Before I knew it, the anxiety started to build up to the breaking point during my sophomore year in college. Finally, it came out. I went to the E.R. for two panic attacks in the span of two days.
The experience was enough to convince me to start over from scratch. A couple weeks later, I broke up with the girl and started accepting that I was indeed gay and that somehow, everything would work out if I could just finish out the semester.
Since then I definitely think I’ve come a long way. Fast forward almost three years and the past really seems like a blur.
I finished at Linfield last June, graduating summa cum laude. By then I was out to all of my close friends and family, nearly all of who were completely supportive. It blew my mind at first how understanding they could really be. They made it very comfortable for me to get out of the closet.
I also graduated with a 4.0 GPA. How I kept it over four years, I really don’t know. It definitely wasn’t easy. However, my attitude was that the broadcasting industry was incredibly competitive and that I needed all the edge I could get. So I worked my butt off in school and got my diploma with all A’s.
Everything was going just as planned — including my determination to stay closeted inside the industry.
The first time I came out to a fellow broadcaster was in January 2013 when I was an intern at a sports talk station. A part-time employee suggested I not come out publicly. He said I shouldn’t give future employers any possible reason to not hire me.
Up until recently, I agreed with that reasoning. During my time with the Medford Rogues out of college, I didn’t tell anyone in the organization. Even if I wanted to, I figured I was the "new guy" in the mix and that I didn’t want to cause a huge scene. Since I had to interview players and coaches as part of my duties and be around them constantly on the buses and in hotel rooms, I didn’t want to put any hostility between those relationships. So I kept my mouth shut.
However, things changed when I started at the two jobs I have in Medford. The people I work with are all warm and friendly. They’ve treated me so well. I began to show them more of me, and I have no regrets.
My bosses know I’m gay. They’re fine with it. Several colleagues know I’m gay. They’re supportive. Even my main broadcasting mentor I worked with for the Rogues doesn’t have a problem with it. I still haven’t met anyone from the industry who has told me that because I’m gay, I can’t do what I want to do.
Broadcasting isn’t easy. You put your whole soul out every second you’re on the air and expose it for everyone tuning in. You can’t go back in time and correct mistakes you make in the moment. You share your personality with your audience and have to keep talking through the good and the bad, whatever those might be. It’s real work.
The people I’ve met in the industry know that. They get it. That’s why I’m convinced that when I tell them I’m gay, they understand. In some form or another, they’ve had to lay their souls on the line as well. It turns out I’m in good company.
I find company just as accepting when I volunteer with the Lotus Rising Project. I know most of the people there have had experiences far more intense than mine. They understand everybody’s story because to a certain extent, they’ve been there. No longer do I feel like I need to hide my experiences out of shame, guilt, or the comparably insignificant fear of a pink slip.
So I’m not afraid of coming out anymore. Doing it now is as good of a time as any. I have full confidence that future employers will judge my broadcasting abilities on the qualities of my audition tapes, and not on my sexual orientation.
This really isn’t all about me. It’s about awareness, and it’s about change for the better.
Society still has some oppression toward the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve seen the unspoken, silent oppression throughout my life, and in some ways it hurts worse than anything someone can actually say to your face.
Medford’s the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, but the silent oppression’s still largely alive and well here. Many young people are scared to come out where I live. I talk to some of them when I volunteer. I hear about how some of the schools still have a hostile environment and how bad they are for anybody who goes to school and gets called any number of things on a regular basis.
I’m coming out because I want to do all that I can to make this world a better place. I know many LGBTQ+ youth are still hurting. I want to show them that it’s OK to be out and proud. I’m tired of not saying anything about it.
Somewhere out there, I know that at least one of these young people loves playing sports, talking sports, and is even thinking about broadcasting sports in the future, but is still scared to come out because of what people might say. I think about that person, whoever or wherever he or she is, and see my closeted self in that person’s shoes.
I’m optimistic for a better world. I have hope that I and everyone else can pursue their ultimate dream. It beats just getting the paycheck.
Max Milander is a play-by-play announcer and a full-time assistant program director for radio in the Medford, Oregon area. He has a website that displays his work. He loves the Portland Trail Blazers and his career goal is to be an NBA play-by-play announcer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski