I sleep with the radio on. I’ve done this my whole life. Since my wife isn’t cursed this way, I use a “pillow speaker”, which allows me to hear the radio without bothering anyone else in the room. My bedroom radio is a Squeezebox Internet radio that gets stations and podcasts from around the world, along with Pandora and Spotify and such. There are a half-dozen preset buttons on the front that I use so I can reach up in the middle of the night and switch to a favored station. I’ve got a couple of sports stations, BBC World Service, a comedy channel … no music, using the radio and the pillow speakers together means I miss one channel of the stereo output, so music sounds goofy while talking usually works OK.
When I went to bed last night, I thought I’d turn on the replay of the Giants game from earlier in the day. The Giants had won, and it felt like a nice way to drift into the sleep zone, catching an inning. It’s never more than that … I fall asleep before things get rolling. But when I lay my head on the pillow speaker, I found that the replay had reached the point where starter Ryan Vogelsong was knocked out of the game, and that wasn’t what I needed to go to sleep, so I started hitting the preset buttons. Which is how I ended up on NBC Sports Radio. I have them on my presets because I enjoy Brian Kenny, who has a morning show during the week.
The host of the show at that early hour of the morning was someone named Jason Page. I admit I hadn’t heard of him … outside of Kenny, the hosts all run together for me. I figured to let him jabber … I think it was the beginning of his nightly stint … while I fell asleep.
Then Page got my attention.
You can listen to the first ten minutes or so of last night’s show here.
Page said he wanted to talk about a quote from former NFL coach Tony Dungy, regarding Michael Sam, the recently-drafted member of the St. Louis Rams, who is gay. Dungy was one of the best coaches ever (he’s a TV analyst now), and was the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl. In an interview, speaking about drafting Sam, Dungy said “I wouldn’t have taken him … Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.”
Page then said he wanted to tell two stories. The first was about football player Michael Vick, who did just under two years for his participation in illegal dog fighting. Page detailed some of the things done to the dogs … I admit I was close to dozing off, the story was interesting but to me, it was just part of my nighttime ritual of falling asleep. But I was awake enough to hear the connection Page was making … when Vick got out of prison, Tony Dungy worked hard on Vick’s rehabilitation and reintegration into society and the NFL.
Then Page began telling the story of another person, a person he knew well, who, some years before, was a closeted gay man who struggled to find a place for himself. The internal conflicts that came with living in the closet eventually overwhelmed the man, and one night, he put together a package of pills and prepared to take them all at once. He prepared to take his life. Just before he took the step, he got a phone call from a friend who convinced him not to do it, that it was time to come out of the closet, which he proceeded to do over the course of the next couple of weeks.
Page had my attention. He was being an effective storyteller … he had also moved the story beyond what I’d expect from a late-night sports-talk show.
And then came the punch line: that suicidal young man was Page. “That person was me.”
He spent the next few minutes talking about why comments like Dungy’s could be harmful, but again, I wasn’t being the best audience member. The points Page was making had less of an impact on me than the fact that the sports-talk host had slipped into a personal mode … things had turned “real”.
I don’t suppose I need to mention that this is not the kind of thing I usually hear when I happen upon sports talk radio.
I knew I couldn’t sleep until I made some small effort. So I climbed out of bed, went to Twitter, and sent a tweet to Page: “just heard your story, connected to the Dungy quote. Had to get out of bed to tweet support.”
A small effort, to be sure. But Page had broken through my attempt to fall asleep, and I had to thank him.