LZ Granderson: Living as a straight man felt like 'drowning'

The ESPN host said he struggled to reconcile his faith with his sexuality.

ByABC News
June 27, 2017, 4:00 AM

— -- The day LZ Granderson and I meet up for his interview in Los Angeles is picture-perfect — a bright, blue sky and a warm midday sun.

Granderson is the picture of contentment, happily juggling multiple responsibilities on a daily basis, including co-anchoring "SportsNation" at ESPN, a sister network of ABC News, and being a political analyst and co-host of "Strait Talk."

He is beaming as he scrolls through his phone, sharing pictures of his new dog, a rescue named Casper. As we step off the elevator together, he reminds me he’s on a bit of a tight schedule, on call to pick up Casper from his groomer.

But as you’ll see from his interview episode, an hour of conversation with Granderson just flies right by.

Granderson and I are colleagues at ABC News. We’ve co-anchored many long hours and late nights of political coverage over the 2016 election cycle, ushering our audience through some big moments in American history together. Off-camera, he and I have talked a lot about our families and our personal lives. And each time we talk, I learn something new about him, something that usually isn’t apparent when you look at his life and his success and his happiness today. This meeting was no different; I learned about his childhood in Detroit, his estrangement from his stepfather, his faith and how it came into conflict with his sexuality. The years spent in the closet, hiding who he was from his family, his friends and his wife.

“Even now, I’ve been out for probably longer than I was in the closet,” said Granderson. “But I still go through moments in which I go back and reprocess life when I was in the closet.”

There were years of teenage insecurity. Through high school and college, there were classmate and celebrity crushes. On sports fields, in classrooms and in church pews, Granderson moved through life in the way that was expected of him. In the way that he was seen, as a straight black man. But all the time, he says, he was fighting who he really was.

“I think drowning is a good sort of way to imagine what it’s like,” he told me. “And you can see the air, you know. And you can paddle as fast as you can, you know. But you have this albatross around you that’s holding you down. And you just feel like you can’t fully breathe and you can’t be yourself. And that was certainly the case for me.”

Granderson shared his experience of coming out during our conversation, including one of the strongest reasons he had for doing so: his son. He talked about the struggle to reconcile his faith with his sexuality and about the difficulties he faced professionally as he began a career in sports journalism.

“I was a young buck in the ’90s, you see, trying to break into the business,” Granderson said. “And at that point, it was pretty comfortable to say things like, ‘I’m not sending a gay man into the locker room.’”

Granderson, of course, went on to develop his voice and grow his portfolio across sports, politics and culture. He weighs in on political panels, representing often underrepresented communities in the national discourse. He regularly addresses young Americans with motivational speeches. His message is always the same.

“I don’t feel comfortable telling people what they should do with their lives,” said Granderson. “I only feel comfortable telling them the impact of what they do could have on others and then hopefully, through that conversation, and share that my experiences will give them the courage to inspire them to share.”

Check out the full conversation on this week’s episode of “Uncomfortable.”

Download and subscribe to the “Uncomfortable” podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher and ABC News podcasts.

Granderson was interviewed as part of a series called “Uncomfortable,” hosted by Amna Nawaz, that offers in-depth honest conversations with influential figures about issues dividing America.

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