About a year and a half ago, I stumbled on what initially felt like the scoop of my career: I found evidence that an NFL player sleeps with men. This happened before Michael Sam came out, but after rumors circulated that four NFL players were about to come out. At that point, public discourse about homophobia in the NFL was percolating, thus the story immediately struck me as journalistically relevant. Many of the reported details would have been vivid and weird enough probably to have amused people who might not be otherwise amused given its outing nature.
A little bit of digging left zero doubt that my dude was into dudes. However, he refused to confirm it when I got in touch with him. He asked me to refrain from writing about him.
My job as a writer for a site that trades in gossip and the exposure of secrets would seem to compel me to disregard the guy’s protests and publish my piece; my job as a human being and gay man, one who understands the gradual process of coming out and that not everyone at every moment is living their lives by a strict code of altruistic ideals, would suggest otherwise. What to do?
I talked to my editor at the time, John Cook, and the then-editor of Deadspin, Tommy Craggs. Both advised against a nonconsensual outing. I talked to my friend Michelangelo Signorile, who has a long and complicated history with outing, stretching back to the early ‘90s when the act of exposing closeted individuals was such a hotly contested issue, Madonna was asked about it in interviews. Signorile told me he wouldn’t out the guy, who was not well known.
I was under no pressure to publish the information I had uncovered. The ball was left in my court. After a lot of thinking, I decided not to post the item. I reasoned that while an out NFL player might change the patriarchal organization’s climate, thus potentially making the world a better place, it would certainly alter the life of a fellow human being. The player in question was not famous enough to assure me that he could weather whatever storm came his way as a result of the revelation. The risk was too high to be worth the potential cultural reward, and it certainly wasn’t worth the pageviews. Given all the shit Michael Sam was put through during his brief time in the NFL, I believe I made the right choice.
This decision was ultimately mine, for which I can thank the tremendous amount of editorial freedom I am afforded at my job, as well as the true faith that my superiors have in me to do my job in a way that is authentic to my beliefs and practices. I cherish that freedom and I strive to publish work that honors it. My colleagues, whom I appreciate and admire without exception, share that freedom. It is our uniting force and it is a beautiful thing, but it also means that some times things are published on the site that I do not agree with. If that is the rub, it’s worth tolerating.
I wouldn’t have approached Gawker’s David Geithner/Derek Truitt story in the way that it ran on the site. I would have taken more time with it. I say this with the advantage of hindsight, but I like to think that by the time I got around to checking Truitt’s unhinged Facebook page, which contained at least one blatantly homophobic post (link NSFW), I would have realized that I did not want to represent this person by telling his story the way he wanted it told. There is a Gawker story in there, and my version would have been: Look at This Crazy, Conspiracy-Obsessed Porn Star Who’s Trying To Blackmail a High-Powered Media Executive (That I’m Not Going to Name). I think that we protected the wrong guy. It’s true that facts have no morality, but at its best, Gawker does. We take sides, we finger the bad guys, we retell stories as they aren’t being told so as to expose truths. In this case, I think, our compass momentarily malfunctioned.
I understand how this happened. We push the envelope all the time at this site in terms of content and journalistic relevance, and what comes with that is the perpetual risk that it would be pushed over the edge at some point. I do not feel that the publishing of this story exposes structural faultiness that was hiding in plain sight, or that homophobia factored into the process whatsoever. I just think our positioning was off, and that we went too far.
In my opinion, what elevated the story from typical Gawker luridness to an outrage in the court of public opinion/Twitter was Truitt’s flirtation with extortion and the man-on-man sex aspect of it. The latter factor has led many to deem the story homophobic, but I don’t believe that it was. Geithner’s apparent interest in having sex with a man is but one facet that made the story juicy—that he solicited a porn performer, attempted to pay for sex, and subverted monogamous ideals are others. I don’t believe that he should be ashamed of any of these things, but I also know that these are the elements that make for good gossip. Discussions about sex, sexuality, and how people navigate them are inherently interesting. If speculating about straight-presenting men who deviate from their outward images behind closed doors is homophobic, almost every gay man that I’ve had a conversation with for longer than five minutes is homophobic.
Granted, idle cocktail party chitchat and the publishing of a news story are two different media with different sets of potential outcomes. I’m talking about impetus here—the guiding morality of the story. It was not one of hatred or bigotry; I believe it was one of telling a juicy story, and it was miscalculated. Even if I hadn’t talked to both of them at length, I would give Jordan Sargent and Keenan Trotter, who both worked on the story, the benefit of the doubt because they are my gay brothers. Through hours of conversations frequently devoted to matters of sexuality, by now I know them well enough to know that they are not homophobic.
One could make the argument, though, Geithner was exposed to potential homophobia as a result of the story. But when doing this, please make sure your sanctimoniousness doesn’t veer into hypocrisy. If you’re one who cried, “Homophobia!” immediately, check yourself. If you think Geithner’s life was “ruined” because you perceive him to be gay, you are homophobic. If you think a life in the closet is preferable to a life outside of it, you are homophobic. This is, of course, all assuming that Geithner isn’t out as bisexual or queer or whatever the potential label (if he believes in labels) to his wife, or that they don’t have some sort of arrangement. Who knows.
The story, in my view, wasn’t anti-gay, but it was inhumane. Assuming Geithner isn’t out as a man who sleeps with men to most who know him (as his response in the original piece did suggest), his coming-out process has been taken out of his hands. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I so much as kissed another guy—becoming comfortable enough with yourself to live openly can take decades. If it were up to me, I would have preserved Geithner’s right to slow-paced self-acceptance.
But I also believe in Jordan Sargent’s right to go for stories as he sees fit, to make the calls that he thinks need to be made. I think that Jordan, whom I admire as a writer and adore as a human being, was doing his job. Jordan is bold. He takes risks, he’s not afraid to piss people off. His willingness to publish true stories that people will find morally questionable means he understands his position. Over the past year, his challenging work has kept the site running, and helped make Gawker what it is.
I didn’t like Jordan’s story, but I defend his right to publish it—how could I do anything but, when the same freedom allows me to exist as loudly gay as I am at my job, and to call out bigoted bullshit as frequently as I do? I know that in the process, I’ve said some ignorant, ill-considered shit during my time here, and voiced opinions that my coworkers do not share. I hope they know better than to hold against me the momentary lapses that are inevitable when you write passionately and daily.
I stand with the union regarding the removal of the post, and I absolutely hate that Max and Tommy have resigned as a result of it, though I get it. This is just the most recent and public strong stand that these two honorable and brilliant men have taken. Though my faith is challenged at the moment, I still believe in Gawker’s ability to do the good, important work that we do when we are at our best. That belief is not something that just changes overnight. I hope the post deletion is an isolated incident that never happens again.
I know that if Gawker continues to run the way it has been run for the last 12 years, though, that the Geithner story won’t be an isolated incident. We will continue to risk outrage by telling the truth. We will continue to make editorial decisions that yield self-righteous denouncement. We will continue to publish stories that even our coworkers dislike and disagree with because every human being on earth has his or her own interpretation of what the truth is and what the pursuit of it entails. Ultimately, I would rather work at a place that’s bold enough to fuck up than one that is too afraid to ever risk it.