If you would have told me when I was in eighth grade that seven years later I would be out of the closet as a proud gay person and also out as a member of the student voice of the Missouri Tigers, KCOU 88.1 FM, covering sports, I would have laughed in your face.
I remember in eighth grade that I was competing in a mixed doubles tennis tournament against a junior and senior. My partner and I were dominating the whole time. But then something in my head switched. Overwhelming thoughts that I might be gay swarmed into my head like bees, and my mind felt like it was being stung. After that, my game was practically nonexistent. But I somehow cleared my mind enough for us to pull out the win on a shanked hit off of the side of my racquet head that landed with an obscure spin.
I remember afterwards not being able to appreciate the victory because of thoughts that I considered “abnormal.” These thoughts were so overwhelming that I didn’t know how to handle them. I thought the only way to get them to leave was to give up and quit on my sports dreams.
The next day, I went to two of my teachers, my seventh- and eighth-grade history teacher coach Barber and my eighth-grade English teacher Ms. Mehra. The conversations were the same, about me wanting to give up. Both of them made me promise I wouldn’t. That promise stayed with me throughout high school where I starred on the Bellaire High School tennis team.
Fast forward to college. I ventured 833 miles from my southwest Houston home to the University of Missouri, a different state and culture. I wasn’t anticipating on joining any sports media stations my first semester out of fear of not being accepted. I was out as gay in general, but I wasn’t ready to be out in that capacity.
I heard of KCOU sports and decided to try it out. I am so glad I did. I was the first openly gay female to cover a game. My favorite game I ever covered was the 2016 NCAA volleyball tournament that Missouri hosted. I had recently come out to people at the station and a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I was ready to take these opportunities head on with as little fear as possible.
At KCOU, I am the first openly gay person to cover a sporting event, broadcast a baseball game as well as other sports and was part of the first all-female broadcast crew. Despite that, there are still issues. KCOU sports is full of cisgender, heterosexual men with very few women and one queer member. It makes me so happy to see there has been a shift in the number of women joining and sticking with the station.
In the beginning of my tenure there in 2016, it was intimidating and overwhelming. But since then, the sports directors have tried to make the space more accepting in order to retain more females and it has worked. This has added more diversity and kept females in the station, with some serving on the sports department’s executive board.
One issue that has been tackled head-on is language. In the past, language could’ve been seen as problematic, but now no one thinks twice before shutting down anything that can be deemed as non-inclusive towards myself and any other potential LGBTQ sports staffers.
In August, I made the decision to come out to the entire sports department. I was tired of people hearing it from others and I wanted to do it on my own accord. Coming out was something I felt I needed to do.
It was the end of a meeting and I was standing in front of the group shaking nervously. After coming out, I was met with an eruption of applause and was shocked at the positive reception. I got messages afterwards thanking me for coming out. I made it a point to be open and proud of my identity and to make myself available for people to feel comfortable with asking questions.
Without my friends in the station, I wouldn’t be an out and proud member of KCOU Sports. Three of my friends, who are like siblings to me, have been by my side throughout my adventure of navigating my identity in the station.
I took a break in spring 2019 to regroup and figure out what I wanted to do and if my future until my graduation from Mizzou included sticking with KCOU. When I was thinking about quitting, those three people were there to help lift me back up.
At this time of uncertainty, I was reminded of these two quotes from Serena Williams: “You have to believe in yourself when no one else does,” and “You have to be fearless to have success.”
The majority of the athletes I interact with are aware I’m gay and I haven’t heard any negativity about my sexuality or about the LGBTQ+ community from any of them, so it’s been extremely positive.
Sometimes when you’re out in the sports world, it can be easy to give up on yourself out of fear. I often feel alone and isolated because there aren’t any other LGBTQ sports staffers. It’s still hard to believe in myself, but throughout my time in KCOU, I have come to realize that my love for sports eclipses any fear and self-doubt that I will ever have.
If it wasn’t for Coach Barber, Ms. Mehra and the support of my fellow KCOU sports staffers, I wouldn’t be unapologetically out. I kept my eighth-grade promise to never give up and nothing, not even my sexuality and identity, will ever circumvent my passion and love for what I do.
Thank you to everyone in KCOU Sports for your unconditional love, support and acceptance for me. I wouldn’t want to start this journey of self-love with any other station.
Lauren Rosenberg is a 22 year old senior at the University of Missouri studying Communications with a minor in Sociology and will be graduating in May 2020. She has been published on Buzzfeed, KCOU.fm/sports, West Coast Bias, Belly Up Sports and has written a feature story on a U.S. gymnast. She broadcasts and reports for KCOU sports and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, @lrosenberg101 on Twitter and @thesilentx on Instagram.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (email@example.com)