I started my career as a journalist in 1976 as a news reporter, one of a generation of journalists inspired by the investigative reporting devoted to Watergate. As a young reporter, I kept a careful and solid line of separation between me and my subjects. I got my sources to open up, but never opened up about myself.
That seemed necessary when I was not completely comfortable with my sexuality, when I was still questioning and working my way up to self-acceptance. It was not so easy once I accepted my sexuality around the time my journalistic focus switched to sports in 1981.
Sports journalism at its core is human-interest writing. It appeals to our irrationality, our loves and our passions. Its significance is emotional, not consequential. To do it well, you must go beyond game scores and reveal the athletes themselves. And that’s not so easy to do if you do not open yourself up and engage.
Through the years I chipped away at my defensive reserve but always kept a professional distance. I came out of the closet at work in 1982 while I was sports editor at the Anchorage Daily News, answering questions about my sexuality and personal life when asked but never volunteering information on my own.
That served me well for several years. Then, in 1987, having moved to Los Angeles to accept a plum position as a general assignment sports feature writer, I decided it was time to take a timorous step forward.
I had observed for several years an odd game played by some of the journalists covering Olympic diver Greg Louganis. Louganis was closeted at the time, but his orientation was pretty much an open secret. Some journalists would waste a lot of press conference time asking questions not directly about his sexuality, but teasingly close, more or less daring him to come out. Louganis fielded the questions patiently, but it all seemed pretty silly to me.
I never engaged in that game, but I also thought it might be good to let Greg know there were some of us who were gay. I had no reason to broach the subject, but I thought I should do something to let him know.
My opportunity came at the diving nationals in Orange County leading up to the 1988 Olympics. Louganis gave a series of one-on-one interviews at a poolside table. I showed up for mine wearing shorts (hey, it was blazing hot and everyone was casually attired) and a Bundeswehr tank top—an outfit that not so subtly screamed “gay” to those in the know. (And, hey: my guns looked bitchin’ in it. We did our interview and the weekend progressed normally. No return “signal” given.
Flash forward a few months to the actual Olympic trials in Indianapolis. Louganis dominates the trials but still has a bit of trouble with his entries. I call my office to make sure that when they have me at the Olympics, they schedule me to cover the platform finals because if his entries aren’t cleaned up by then, it could result in an upset
The last night in town I get a call in my room. It’s Jim, Greg’s manager/boyfriend. He says he and Greg are going out for drinks and would I like to join them?
I have never been asked out for drinks by a subject. Message received, I think. I go to the room Jim said they were at. I knock on the door and Jim answers. Wearing nothing but a tank top and a jockstrap. I think maybe I am early, that they are still getting ready. Nope: they’re not going out, there’s no Louganis, and this is Jim’s outfit for the evening.
What ensued was one of the weirdest twenty minutes of my life. Jim invited me in and repeatedly told me swimsuit manufacturers kept sending Greg swimsuit samples but they never fit. He said if I wanted to try them on and they fit, I could have them.
I declined and when he asked more about me I lied and said I had a boyfriend. He offered up details about his relationship with Greg. I stammered out responses and booked outta the room as quickly as I could.
Next time I saw Greg and Jim was at the Olympics. Louganis trailed throughout the platform competition, splashing badly on every entry until the finale, then delivered an epic dive with a flawless entry to win the gold. He burst into a rare display of emotion at the end, the world not knowing he was dealing with the trauma of learning he was HIV+ and wondering what perils lay ahead.
My career moved on. I directed more sports staffs. I wrote a cover story for the Advocate on Magic Johnson. I won awards. In semi-retirement I became a high school coach and a sports columnist with the Bay Area Reporter. But nothing has ever topped that moment when the door opened and I was greeted by a tank top and a jockstrap.