Is Nanci Donnellan, aka the Fabulous Sports Babe, gay? That's the mystery stemming from Michael Kruse's lengthy profile of the trailblazing former KJR-950 disc jockey in Grantland yesterday, only the question never appears in Kruse's piece. So the Daily Weekly went ahead and put it directly to Donnellan, who now works an overnight shift for 98.7 The Fan in Tampa, Florida.
To those who worked with her in Seattle, this characterization will ring true. "I've known her for 20 years and was on her show last year, though we are not too close," says Dave "The Groz" Grosby, a former KJR colleague of Donnellan's who now works afternoons for 710 ESPN. "She was nice enough to fill in for me when I had my heart surgery, which has become a connection between us. I even called her Nanci. That being said, I've never really known a thing about her personal life. She never, ever went into details about how she grew up or what she was like in high school. When it became clear immediately she didn't want to talk about it, I stopped bringing it up. I certainly saw the two sides of the personality, though I liked them both."
Kruse covers this turf well in his Grantland piece, but things get a little weird when he tries to get the Babe to open up about her love life:
She was wearing another pink shirt. This pink shirt had on the front a black-and-white photo of a group of women.
"Who's on your shirt?" I asked.
"On your shirt."
She looked down. She thought for a second.
"That's my friend Paula. My friend Karen. People that I used to know. You see her dressed up with her glove on. We put her in right field.
"Boston. Long time ago," she said. "They threw us out there and we played softball. I played an awful lot of third base and catcher. Mostly third base."
I looked at the photo. I looked at her.
"Can we talk about love?" I asked.
"About what?" she said.
"You can if you want to."
"What does that mean?"
"Whom have you loved?"
"I don't think that's anything I would ever talk about."
"Which is fair."
"It's not something I would ever share in any way. I mean, I wouldn't ... I'm sure there have been times in and out ... I don't know how good that is for me, Michael ... I'm not so sure that's a very good move for me."
"That it's a very good what?"
"I don't think it would be a good thing for what I do. You know what I mean? I don't think it's a good thing for me."
"To share that?"
"To share that."
"I don't think that would be good for what I do, because of what I do for a living. It could distract from what I'm doing."
"But you have loved and been loved?"
"I would say yes, here and there, if you wanted to, yeah. What does that got to do with anything?"
"Who people love, and that they're loved, is important, I think, to anybody. It's a tough row to hoe if there's not that."
"I guess, I think, those spaces come at certain times in your life, but I'm not one to see -- it wouldn't be anything that I would be interested -- you know, it could come for five years, it could come for 10 years, it could come for two years. But I don't think ... it can't take away from what I'm doing ...
In this awkward exchange, Kruse is clearly giving Donnellan an opening to come out as a gay woman--an offer she declines. In a subsequent email exchange, I put it to the Babe more plainly:
Mike Seely: Are you gay?
Sports Babe: not gay for u...but thanks for asking!!
Seely: Right, well, I'm a guy. But are you gay for other babes?
Sports Babe: no...just me..love ur weekly...
Broaching the subject of one's sexuality is a delicate journalistic act--doubly so in the historically homophobic realm of sports. It's a quandary Kruse admits he struggled with in composing his piece.
"I like Nanci. She's interesting," says Kruse. "This piece I think was like a lot of stories that are complicated. It forced me to make choices about what to put in and what to leave out. Readers can be readers. They should be. And periods can be not only ends of sentences but invitations to keep reading."
To be clear, Donnellan's cryptic sorta-no's should in no way be interpreted as "yep, I'm gay!" But if a sports radio broadcaster, male or female, were to come out as a homosexual, would it really be that big a deal in a day and age where gay marriage is being legalized in some states, where celebrities like Anderson Cooper are coming out of the closet with very little fanfare, and where even the notoriously conservative National Football League is experiencing very public acceptance in its ranks? Moreover, how tough would this be for a woman who's already broken one glass ceiling and is looking to revive her career? Might coming out get her off the graveyard shift and into a cushier gig in a more progressive market?
One shouldn't be so certain, warns ESPN's Grosby.
"You'd like to think we are way past the day where this would matter even a little bit," he says. "Athletes are coming out, and the WNBA, especially here, embraces all lifestyles. Sadly, there are still plenty of narrow-minded people out there. My opinion is it would be tougher for a man [to come out], while it would add to the challenges women already face in sports radio."
Adds KJR's Woodward: "I think it's probably the same in society as it would be in sports radio. I still think it takes a brave person to come out and take the criticism that would come with it, whether you're a man or a woman. I applaud those who have the bravery to come out. Each person who comes out, whether they're famous or not, helps a little bit. We've definitely seen more female athletes be comfortable coming out, and I think there is a bigger stigma associated with men being gay in sports than women being gay in sports. So I think there would be more of a microscope put on a male athlete or male talk-radio host coming out."