When the Chicago Cubs found themselves with a sudden and unexpected vacancy for their TV play-by-play voice in December, they also had an opportunity to surprise the sports world by picking an outside-the-box candidate.
As Outsports’ most subtle Cubs enthusiast, it occurred to me that this was a time when we could use our platform to help amplify the candidacy of an up and coming LGBTQ announcer or two in order to get them on the team’s radar. So I attempted to put together a list of LGBTQ broadcasters at the major or upper minor league level to profile.
One month later, to quote the great Jack Benny, “I’m thinking it over!”
Perhaps I was being too myopic in concentrating only on baseball. So I threw the question into our Outsports Slack channel. And our staff was stumped.
This was disconcerting. Were there really no out play-by-play announcers working at the highest level... anywhere? In... you know... that industry notorious for employing no gays whatsoever: TV and broadcasting?
Granted, the scarcity of jobs in every big league sport makes it difficult for anyone to ascend to the major leagues as an announcer. But even so, it was jolting to realize this. So I talked to Jon Kliment, the voice of minor league hockey’s Elmira Enforcers, about his experiences trying to work his way up as an out gay voice an industry that’s sorely in need of representation.
While a lot of Kliment’s experience has been positive, he did admit that in his attempts to move his career forward, “I know I’m even a little hesitant when I go to apply for a job that’s somewhere maybe a little less traditionally friendly. It sucks to say that and I’ve been proven wrong on a few of those but it’s the honest truth.”
However, Kliment also expanded on a few of those organizations that exceeded his expectations, noting that during the pandemic, “I talked with a lot of teams that wouldn’t, in my mind, traditionally be friendly towards the community. And they were amazing and talking with me and trying to help me figure things out.”
From his example, it sounds like one of the major obstacles for LGBTQ voices is that we’re at a point where it’s still considered a pleasant surprise when certain minor league markets prove to be open to inclusion. And while the number of pleasant surprises might be growing, it’s not going to make things easier on the community until it’s generally recognized that inclusive attitudes are the norm, no matter the team or region of the country.
It also stands to reason that the lack of LGBTQ voices in the most prominent jobs perpetuates our community’s scarcity throughout the industry. After all, if we have no role models we can point to at the top, that makes it seem that much more daunting for anyone trying to get there and be the first.
Frustratingly, this also comes at a time where some networks and teams are putting in an effort to diversify. Names like Suzyn Waldman, Gus Johnson, Dave Sims, Doris Burke, and Jason Benetti show others in their respective communities what is possible by calling major league sports on the local and national levels. But for some reason we haven’t had an LGBTQ name join that list.
As one who is working his way up through the ranks, Kliment summed up what it would mean for our community to have someone like that to focus on: “It would be amazing... to have somebody look and say ‘I can do that,’ that’s so important to have.”
Hoping to learn how close we are to that becoming reality, I contacted ESPN to learn more about the network’s efforts in bringing LGBTQ voices to its game telecasts. And The Worldwide Leader is pursuing several different avenues to try to help make this happen.
Currently, ESPN partners with NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, with an emphasis on utilizing that connection to create a talent pipeline. The network also attempts to recruit and share job opportunities with the community in collaboration with the Out and Equal initiative.
In a statement to Outsports, ESPN Executive Vice President, Event and Studio Production Stephanie Druley asserted:
“Fostering a diverse and inclusive environment is a core ESPN value that is paramount to our success and employee experience. It’s an ongoing priority to ensure that our on-air presentation reflects the diverse composition of our audience. We’re proud of all that we’ve accomplished and remain focused on the important work ahead.”
ESPN has recruited some of its most respected voices from our community, from Israel Gutierrez to Christina Kahrl to LZ Granderson. While this represents progress, the network acknowledged that there is still work to be done going forward.
As one broadcaster doing that work, Kliment tries to ensure that his listeners and co-workers know he’s representing the LGBTQ community as publicly as possible. In the process of landing his current job with the Enforcers, he recalled that “I must have referred to my husband like 75 times,” adding, “They actually call him ‘husband’ here.”
He also makes certain to be upfront about who he is on his professional website while linking to his coming out story and speaking at every You Can Play community event that he can. In being open and honest about his sexuality, Kliment understands what he represents to a community of aspiring LGBTQ broadcasters:
“In a year like this where things are being looked at in a different light, now’s the time that somebody should be making a stride and putting the example out there. And I wouldn’t be comfortable with myself if I hid it and then I came into work and was like, ‘Oh yeah, by the way...’
“Having that out there is important because it’s part of who I am. And if you’re going to hire me, you’re going to find out eventually anyway so I’d rather just put it right out front... and if I can make an impact with the LGBTQ [community], I want to do that too as much as I can. For me, that’s one of the big reasons... I want to get to that level, I want to be a part of that.”
Let’s hope that someday soon, we as fans can look at an LGBTQ announcer like Kliment applying for a position at the major league level and say— in the words of my favorite sports broadcasting voice of all time — it might be... it could be... it is!
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story implied that Out and Equal was affiliated with ESPN and misstated Stephanie Druley’s job title. Corrections have been made and Outsports regrets the errors.