Copyright © 2006 Bay Area Reporter, a division of Benro Enterprises, Inc.

Jock Talk
Reflection on an out life in sports

February 1982. I get up from my desk at the Anchorage Daily News and head to the editor's office, pumped up and ready for a fight. I walk through the room past colleagues and friends, feeling for the moment very alone, very isolated, and very unsure about what is about to happen.

Whatever it is, I am ready for it.

So I walk into the glassed-in office and tell my boss I'm gay.

At the time, I had not yet even come out to my parents. They were thousands of miles away in the Midwest and I did not want to tell them until I knew they would be able to see me often enough to know I was happy, the only thing they ever said they wanted me to be.

And I had no gay-and-out friends in sports. Glenn Burke's story had not yet been published in Inside Sports. Word of the first Gay Olympic Games to be held later that year in San Francisco had not hit Alaska yet. The only gay athlete I had even heard of was former NFL player David Kopay; he was a remote source of inspiration at the time, but the scarcity of others reinforced my concerns that this was going to be a very lonely and cold excursion.

After coming to terms with my sexuality relatively late in life in my mid-20s, I was faced with a choice that for me was in fact no choice at all: be open and honest about my relationships with my journalism and sports colleagues, or forever try to succeed in a very public career while spending an enormous amount of energy maintaining a cloak of secrecy.

As I say, not really a choice at all.

I had been the editor of the Kodiak (AK) Daily Mirror for three years before I joined the Daily News just a year earlier as a sports reporter, then spent a few months shuttling between sports and news depending on where I was most needed. I was an unlikely candidate for the sports editing job when it opened up – it would have been hard to find a candidate with less sports writing experience than I – but I had the enthusiastic backing of the sports department staff and, as I had promised the ADN in my original application a year earlier, I was "cheap, easy and available."

Thirty years ago, anti-discrimination laws protecting sexual orientation were virtually unheard of. I did not know whether coming out would cost me my job, my career, my apartment, or my safety. I did not know whether my orientation might somehow become a news story that would draw so much attention to me as to make it impossible for me to perform my job.

Worse than my concerns about my professional career were my concerns about my avocation. In addition to being the sports editor for a newspaper locked in a battle-to-the-death journalism war with the rival Anchorage Times, I was also volunteering at the local public high schools as a wrestling coach. I could envision a hysterical, baseless backlash that would banish me from the sport I so loved and gave credit to for all of the success and confidence I have had in life.

It was that confidence and success I was banking on when I walked into Howard Weaver's office. I was banking on the fact that as my editor, he and the folks at the paper had gotten to know me pretty well over the previous year as a professional and all around decent guy, an asset to the paper, and wouldn't let a little thing such as who I loved and who I slept with get in the way.

So I walked in and blurted out the news that I was gay and that I thought it was important that my boss knew and that he could call on me if the paper ever needed to know people to talk to in the local queer community and I wasn't ever going to tell my athletes but I wasn't ever going to lie about it to my fellow coaches. I think I may have even said that if I got fired for it I was going to try to sue their asses because I know that was my backup plan but maybe I didn't say that out loud. I do know I finally was done talking and rather breathless, waiting for the silence to break, the beginning of the Next Ominous Thing.

Weaver is and was a big bear of a man, a former high school heavyweight wrestler, and one of the most creative minds I've ever met in the newspaper field. I'd first become aware of him years earlier when he was working on the renegade Alaska Advocate. It was his presence at the ADN after it was bought by new ownership in an attempt to resurrect it that had convinced me to apply there and return to Alaska. He was for me the embodiment of the libertarian/individual-rights conservative vibe I found so addictive in Alaska – the same vibe that had given me the self confidence to admit my sexuality. So if he was going to have a problem with my coming out, I was in for one very cold winter indeed.

"As I recall, you were the first staffer who came out to me professionally," Weaver wrote me recently. "I hadn't been editor very long at that point and I'd never experienced it before. As you might guess, it was a significant event for me. I am happy to remember that my primary reaction was that I felt pleased you trusted me enough to do so. I could see how important it was to you and I was, frankly, kind of honored that you'd come to talk about it. I don't remember worrying about any fallout or professional complications. As I recall, we talked some about how broad disclosure might be interpreted in the sports world – then, as now, one of the more repressed arenas, I'd say. I could tell you'd given it a lot of thought and had wrestled with the issues. But I knew your professionalism and personal integrity and just wasn't concerned."

And just like that, I was out.

It's been 30 years now this month. Having left mainstream newspapers 15 years ago, I've written more than 250 sports columns for the Bay Area Reporter during the past five years: roughly 200,000 of the millions of words I've written for sports audiences across the country.

Throughout these past 30 years, I've had the chance to be an advocate for equal access for women sportswriters, equal competition opportunities for women athletes, and equal job opportunities for women coaches. I've been able to write about barriers to sports inclusion for trans and intersex athletes. I've been able to speak out against sports homophobia.

I've been able to cover almost every major sporting event I could imagine: Super Bowls, World Series, World Cups, Summer and Winter Olympics, college championships. And I've been able to extend for an improbably long time my life as an athlete and a coach.

What I love most about coaching is the raw physicality of it all: the growth of muscle knowledge in athletes as they pump sweat equity into their budding careers. What I love most about journalism is the intellectual integrity and intimacy of it: the sharing of unadulterated thoughts, emotions and experiences with friends I've never met and probably never will.

It was the ability to have those years, to enjoy the physicality and the integrity and the sharing and the sweat and the experiences that I won the day I walked into Weaver's office. I didn't know at the time that no other sports editor at a major daily newspaper had done it; I wasn't thinking in historical terms. All I knew was the life I wanted to have, as a coach, athlete, and journalist. None of it would have been possible if I had remained crouched behind an untold lie.

 So if you are an athlete or a coach and haven't come out yet, take the day and think about that. Weaver is right: we've made a ton of progress in sports and have gained a bucketful of acceptance, but sports does remain one of the most repressed arenas of human existence. The only way to beat that is to speak up and fight back.

Come out, come out, wherever you are. There's a big world out here and it would be a shame for you to miss it. The risk you run in coming out is nothing compared to the risk you take if you don't.