NEW YORK -- The premiere of "The Outfield" this weekend on satellite radio will open with a discussion of Derrick Gordon, the UMass guard who on Wednesday became the first openly gay Division I men’s basketball player.
Seemingly perfect timing for a sports talk show about LGBT issues to debut just four days after that news broke. But the philosophy behind the weekly program on SiriusXM is that such stories are common.
"Not a week goes by, not a month goes by without another headline about an athlete coming out," said Dave Gorab, the company’s vice president for talk programming.
When Eddie Robinson, who has worked for the SiriusXM SportsZone channel, pitched the idea, Gorab said his immediate reaction was "we have to do this."
As host, Robinson envisions a mix of news analysis, features and listener call-ins. One of the guests for Sunday’s premiere is Sheryl Swoopes, the women’s basketball star who at one time was the most recognizable athlete to come out in a team sport. The college coach at Loyola of Chicago later became engaged to a man.
Robinson’s resume reads like someone preparing for this job - except the position never existed until he created it. A former high school football player, he has worked for CBS News, public radio and MTV. He was also an engineer and producer for New York sports talk radio station WFAN, remembering the discomfort of spending time in that testosterone-soaked environment when he was still in the closet.
But there’s much about the in-depth analysis and relaxed banter of sports talk radio that Robinson wants to emulate. And he suspects many in the LGBT community long for those kinds of conversations, too.
"Here is a platform that’s outside `Glee,’ outside `Queer Eye,’ outside RuPaul," Robinson said.
Those traditional sports talk radio hosts often avoid topics such as homophobia, though. Robinson expects plenty of coverage involving high-profile players such as Gordon, Jason Collins and Michael Sam. But he also wants to tell the stories of gay athletes and allies at the amateur, recreational and high school level. He believes the anonymity of the call-in format will also allow listeners to share their struggles and offer advice to one another.
With 26 million subscribers, SiriusXM spans the entire country, able to reach a young gay athlete in a small town who otherwise wouldn’t hear of others with similar experiences.
The show will air on OutQ, SiriusXM’s channel for the LGBT community, not a sports station. That seemed like the best fit, Gorab said.
Robinson summed up the program’s balance of the fun of sports and the seriousness of societal issues this way: "It’s about understanding what it means to be an athlete who just happens to be gay."