UPDATE Sept. 13: Seth Dunlap tweeted that he is taking a leave of absence from the radio station and issued a statement through an attorney, explaining his decision. Still no comment from WWL Radio management.
My statement today. I look forward to speaking more about this in the future, and returning soon to the career I love. Thanks for all of the support. pic.twitter.com/WpJZQDJgxL— Seth Dunlap (@sethdunlap) September 13, 2019
The Gambit — a Baton Rouge weekly published by The Advocate newspaper, not associated with the LGBTQ magazine — reports the homophobic post by WWL Radio was in response to a tweet by host Seth Dunlap, who is gay.
On Sept. 5, Dunlap posted an open letter to Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Facebook, about the video he recorded for Focus on the Family. The anti-LGBT group enlisted Brees to encourage children to take their bibles to school next month. “I am a gay man who has worked nearly two decades in the sports media industry,” Dunlap wrote, in his first public statement about his sexuality. “My personal experience, not headlines or Twitter innuendo, caused me to recoil at your initial video, and become even further flummoxed at your response today.” Dunlap called Brees’ words “incredibly hurtful” and “emotionally debilitating.”
That same day, Dunlap made sure his Twitter followers knew about it, too, tweeting a link to his open letter and identifying himself as “an openly gay man.”
And someone used the station Twitter account to tell Dunlap, “That you’re a fag”
Someone at the station deleted the tweet, but not before it was screencapped by listeners and by many of the station’s 33-thousand followers. Support poured in via Twitter, and Dunlap thanked those who did.
All of the comments and responses tonight mean a lot. Thank you for the kind words, funny memes, and amazingly awful pun attempts. ✌️❤️— Seth Dunlap (@sethdunlap) September 11, 2019
Many of those responding en masse called for operations and program director Diane Newman and sports director Kristian Garic to be fired. Newman did not return a call from Outsports by press time. Garic tweeted that he spoke privately with Dunlap and that “Seth knows I support him.”
Dunlap didn’t reply to the tweet by the station, nor to our direct message seeking comment. But he did thank those who did tweet their support, and he posted this:
I'm just going to really enjoy knowing somebody is exceptionally upset I get to talk sports every night for a living pic.twitter.com/z5zlvfZRH0— Seth Dunlap (@sethdunlap) September 10, 2019
At the opening of his Tuesday broadcast, The Gambit reported Dunlap referenced the controversy indirectly: “The power of sport transforms the hate and divisiveness” that can infect the rest of our lives, Dunlap said. And then he played Elton John’s “Your Song.”
On Wednesday, he announced via Twitter he’d be taking the night off, and sent a message to his listeners about living authentically.
“Being yourself has never been more important. The hate that has infected our society threatens to tear us apart from the inside out. I’m overwhelmed, but I’m also very proud of who I am and the life I live.
“I’ll be taking tonight off from the show to reflect and decompress.”
Several hours after deleting the tweet on Tuesday, WWL tweeted a statement which said in part, “We are actively investigating this incident and will take swift and appropriate action once we determine how this occurred.” Garic referred all questions to the company’s tweeted statement.
We are aware of a tweet that went out today from the WWL account. The content of the tweet is categorically offensive and abhorrent to the station. We are actively investigating this incident and will take swift and appropriate action once we determine how this occurred.— WWL Radio (@WWLAMFM) September 11, 2019
Perhaps lost in all this is the heartfelt message Dunlap wrote to Brees last week, after hearing the quarterback tell reporters that the message of “love” from the “Focus on the Family” group was being distorted. “Shame on them,” Brees said.
Dunlap invited Brees to meet with him, in hopes of finding understanding. But first, he told him in his open letter about his own familiarity with that word, “shame.”
“I’ve dealt with a lot of shame in my life. I grew up in one of the most rural, remote places in our country. I felt shame every minute of every day trying to hide who I really was, attempting to conform to the world views of a very closed and unwelcoming community.
“When I was able to escape that area in 2002, heading to college on academic scholarships at the local state university, I found that place as nearly unwelcoming to young gay men and lesbian women. I felt an overwhelming amount of shame working for the local radio station during and after college, having to listen to my bosses talk openly in the office about how they believed gay people should be ‘rounded up and given a quick and easy death.’ There was shame when I approached one of my bosses about racist N-word language I had heard during a syndicated broadcast on our station the night before, only to be quite literally laughed on of his office. When those same bosses found out that I was gay, they summarily fired me without cause, then tried to block me from receiving unemployment benefits.
“Shortly after, I was hired as the high school girls’ varsity basketball coach at my high school alma mater, a position that I was eager to accept. I wasn’t a very good coach, but I had the support of the administration. Around then I started dating another man around my age, the first time I was in a same-sex relationship. We weren’t open and out, but the athletic directors and school board members found out about that relationship and I was immediately let go. It was one of the most shameful experiences of my life.
“Fast forward a decade and I’m working as an out-and-open gay man in sports media in the heart of the Deep South. I’m sure you can imagine the kind of daily hate I receive for simply living my life while doing what I love do to — cover sports. Still, I thought the shame I had once felt in my life had essentially passed by. It had, for the most part, until a little over a year ago when my then-general manager asked people I worked with why I was being allowed to cover your team, the Saints, explaining that it would ‘make players uncomfortable.’ A torrent of shame rushed over me to a point where I briefly thought about leaving the sports media industry completely, only to be talked off that ledge by some close friends in the local media scene.
“So, shame has been an ever-present passenger in my life. I feel like I understand it as well as nearly anybody alive. I’m no different than every gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer person in the world. When you say, “shame on them,” when referencing the men and women with a platform who have written or discussed your video the past few days, those words are incredibly hurtful.“
Follow Seth Dunlap on Twitter by clicking here.
Editor’s note: our original report said the Saints beat the Titans Monday night, but as fans of the Saints and Texans know all too well, New Orleans won 30-28 over Houston, not Tennessee.