Ten years ago, ESPN Radio host Jared Max had a question: Were sports fans ready to hear an openly gay man read the sports news?
The answer was a resounding “yes.”
On May 19, 2011, Max signed on for his daily 5:00 a.m. radio show on ESPN Radio in New York, and for the final segment, decided to cut the Yankees-Orioles recap and talk about himself. He opened the word document sitting in his computer, and told his listeners he was gay.
Then the support started rolling in. Max feared publicly coming out would ruin his career in the macho-filled world of sports talk. Instead, he felt reinvigorated.
“Before I came out, I think I was failing,” Max told me on a recent edition of “The Sports Kiki” podcast. “All of a sudden, becoming a talk show host wasn’t working. But once I was honest with the audience about who I am, I realized, ‘Okay, now I can talk and I can react at work.’”
At the time, Max was a new hire at ESPN, coming over from WCBS-AM. Though Max came out to his mother when he was 21 years old, he stayed closeted to most people in his life, especially those in the biz. He didn’t want his sexuality to define him.
“I never wanted to be the gay sportscaster,” he said. “That scared the living daylights out of me.”
For the next 16 years, Max proceeded to live a double life: gay when he went out, and straight in the radio studio. He told our Cyd Zeigler it was like he had been walking through life with dark sunglasses.
Max’s decision to shed his shades was a last-minute call. The night before his big announcement, he read a quote from Charles Barkley, who said he had gay teammates, and did not care at all. NBA Hall of Fame executive Rick Welts came out the same week, along with CNN anchor Don Lemon.
The rainbow tidal wave propelled Max to come out himself.
“(Barkley) was a big, important voice,” he said. “People don’t always realize, but sometimes you can make an innocuous comment that can harm somebody, but you can also make a comment — that even Charles Barkley didn’t know — can change somebody’s life.”
What was it like to come out of the closet on a live sports talk show 10 years ago? It wouldn’t have happened then without the act of courage by Basketball Hall of Famer @RickWelts Thank you @JonSchwartz1 for hosting this special Sports Mentoring Project. WATCH THIS SHORT CLIP https://t.co/edoD1z5hgr— Jared Max (@Jared_Max) May 17, 2021
Today, Max is a sports reporter for Fox News Headlines 24/7 on SiriusXM, and also appears on Fox News and Fox Business to discuss big stories he’s working on. Most of all, he loves delving into off-beat tales that take him beyond the playing field. Recently, he told the story of a lifelong Patriots fan who took home Tom Brady’s first career touchdown pass, after receiver Terry Glenn had tossed it into the stands.
Now, the ball is up for action, and will probably fetch a pretty penny. The story is a good lesson for sports fans: Never discard any souvenirs. You never know how much value you may be sitting on.
After years of reading box scores, Max says he finds joy in providing color to the daily sports ticker.
“I’m still so excited by the stories and that’s what it comes down to,” he said. “That’s what we want to hear, our stories.”
Since coming out, Max has told hundreds of stories, including mine. When I came out as gay on Boston’s WEEI in 2016, Max included my announcement in one of his updates. It was a story he felt newly liberated to share.
“I remember doing it thinking, ‘You know what? I’m allowed to tell this story,’” Max said.
These days, Max’s only regret is that he didn’t tell his own story earlier. The hardest part was opening up that word document.
“You start small, but it is a jump off the diving board,” he said. “But in my experience and looking back 10 years later, it’s the same thing as I felt that day. ‘God, that was easy.’”