James Harbaugh Jr., son of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh, is opening up about being the gay son of a famous football dad.
In an interview this week with the Two Outs podcast, hosted by Steve Buckley and Alex Reimer, and a follow-up interview with Outsports, James talked about his famous football dad, coming out to him shortly after the 2016 election, and his love of musical theater.
"I can kind of credit my dad for getting me into theater a little bit, oddly enough,” James told Two Outs. “In 2005, when he was at Stanford, he took the family — my sister, stepmom and I — we went and saw ‘Wicked’ in San Francisco. I was blown away by it. I was probably 12 at the time. I remember thinking, 'Wow, this is so incredible. I would love to be a part of something that makes people feel this way, something that feels so magical and amazing.'"
James has followed that passion to the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, where he is currently earning a BFA in directing.
James love of his craft is matched only by his passion for football. His dad has been in the game since James was born, then quarterbacking the Indianapolis Colts. He’s followed his dad to San Diego, Stanford, the 49ers and now Michigan, where he is the self-proclaimed biggest fan in Michigan Stadium.
"I challenge you to find anyone at this university who is as into football as I am,” he told Buckley and Reimer. “I am at those games –– I come home with bruises from cheering so loud. I am on top of those bleachers, I'm like throwing myself around recklessly. I am endangering myself for the sake of the game."
He told Outsports he goes beyond cheering at the games. He’s “that guy” making everybody around him stand on their feet and throw their bodies into the games.
“I forcibly encourage the people sitting in my section or watching with me at home to be loud on every down and never sit down. I tell them they can sit down when they’re dead.”
So yes, he’s kind of a football fan, seemingly a bigger fan for his dad’s teams, which means he does a lot more celebrating than consoling.
It’s only been in the last year that he came out to his dad. Dismayed by election results last November, he told his father that he was scared for himself and other people like him. When dad wrote back a vague message of support, James went all in.
“I just it blurted out –– and told him for the first time verbatim –– 'Dad, I'm gay. Do you know that? And because of that, this is why X,Y, Z. I'm scared because of this, that and the other.'
“And he just said something else back, it was an encouraging and uplifting response about how you just need to keep your head up. 'As long as you do what you feel is right in your mind, you live your truth. Everything will end up being OK.'"
While he has only come out to himself in recent years, James has been in and around big-time football all of his life. He said he’s never been made to feel out of place by players, coaches or others in football. Well, except for one detail.
“I think there was an obvious sense of feeling out-of-place in society in general,” James said. “But I never felt aware of being uncomfortable around my dad’s teams. If anything, I was way more self-aware of the fact that I was a mouse at 6-foot-1, compared to these 6-foot-5 giants when I would try and eat in their meal sessions at away games. I was more concerned about being stepped on than my sexuality.”
Of course, Reimer and Buckley also asked James about his dad’s infamous fashion sense. He didn’t hold back, taking aim at those khakis.
"They're hideous! Oh God! Here's what happens in the morning when I wake up: just like anybody, I wake up, stare at the ceiling for a minute, and then I look at my phone,” James told Two Outs. “I do the thing where you go through text messages and Snapchats –– whatever you want. And then I save Facebook for last, because I know every single day, when I scroll just a couple scrolls down, I'm going to see something stupid and ridiculous about my dad doing something crazy. I'm also scared to see what it's going to be. ...
"I wish you guys could see. You see him on the field and doing interviews. But he comes home, and it's full-on. He's still wearing them, sometimes. And then if he ever varies from it, it will be equally as bad. He'll have on a full-on sweatsuit, and then his Crocs with socks. There's no better alternative. You almost want him to go back to the khakis."
As for what dad does around the house, James paints a picture that is quite nearly perfectly predictable.
“In those rare moments where he gets a chance to just chill out at home, few and far between, he pours a couple glasses of milk, grabs a bag of Fritos, and watches re-runs of ‘Judge Judy,’” James told Outsports. “He’s really hooked on ‘Lost’ right now. I asked him why he gets so into things that aren’t so popular anymore, and he said it’s because he wants to bring things back into style. I guess it’s why he wears those Crocs all the time. But hey he just bought Birkenstocks so now he thinks he’s a real fashionable dude.”
In case you hadn’t figured it out, James also seems to have a great sense of humor.
Jim Harbaugh is the second big-time college football coach to have a son come out publicly as gay. Bobby Petrino, Jr., son of the Louisville coach, came out in 2015. Both the Michigan Wolverines and Louisville Cardinals are ranked in the AP Top 20.
You can find James Harbaugh, Jr., on Instagram @JamesHarbaugh and on Twitter @JamesHarbaughJr.