Radio Head


By Aaron Hicklin

One morning last year, ESPN sportscaster Jared Max decided to change his world. He changed ours as well.

Photography by David Yellen

Jared Max has a metaphor for what happened to him on May 19, 2011. “There’s a moment when the chicken is about to hatch from the shell,” he says. “You don’t know exactly when it will happen, but you know that it’s coming.” When Max left his suburban New Jersey home at 2 a.m. for his regular radio gig at New York’s ESPN 1050, he wasn’t sure he was going to break out of his shell -- he knew only that he might. As he was leaving, he glanced down at his cats, Chocolate Mush and Skutchie Mama. “Guys, things might be a little different when I come home today,” he said. And then he got into his 2004 Volkswagen Passat and drove to work, as he did every weekday.

It was 5:50 a.m., shortly before the end of his morning show, when Max, then 37, cracked his shell wide open. “For the last 16 years, I’ve been living a free life among my close friends and family, and I’ve hidden behind what is a gargantuan-sized secret here in the sports world,” he said. “I am gay.”

Max delivered his confessional in the classic radio-jock style his audience was used to -- all declarative sentences and emphatic pauses. He dismissed innuendo about gays in the locker room (“ridiculous”), requested that his colleagues stop asking if he was married or had a girlfriend, and quoted Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.”

A few hours later, Max was back home, breaking the news to Mush and Skutchie.

One year on, Max still jumps into his Passat at 2 a.m. every day to drive to the ESPN studio in the city. Far from alienating his audience, Max’s act of courage seems to have cemented his position. In the first quarter of this year, his show ranked first in New York among men ages 25 to 54 in his time slot.

He remembers wrapping up his on-air soliloquy last year, thinking, Holy shit, this is easy, realizing “that all the fears I’d built up were useless.” Supportive emails and texts were flooding in before he’d even wrapped, but the memory that stands out is the way his board operator sauntered in and said, “Hey, my old man called, he said congratulations.” For Max, that was everything. “I got the impression that his dad was old-school, so it really meant a lot to hear that,” he says.

It is a rainy morning in mid-May. Max is heading home after his morning shift and cursing the drivers blocking the way into the Lincoln Tunnel. He is wearing a gray sweatshirt and jeans. A colleague at his station told me that Max was a good source for style tips, but Max says it’s not true. “I dress like a straight guy who doesn’t quite know how to dress, like he’s just putting clothes on to keep himself warm,” he says. Pushed to think of any gay stereotypes that apply to him, he says, “Jeez, I’m into arts a little bit, and I think I have a bit of a flair for interior design.”

As a kid, his mom used to tell him that he had the sensitivity of a woman. “I had no problem with that. I watch The Young and the Restless, and I’ll cry. I’ve been watching it for 20 years.”

Tags: Sports, Jared Max