One day after announcing a temporary leave of absence from his job at WWL Radio, sports host Seth Dunlap on Friday issued a lengthy statement about his decision through his attorney, Megan C. Kiefer — while not making it clear whether he was stepping down or not.
"Living as an openly gay man can be difficult. Living as an openly gay man in the Deep South is even more difficult," the statement began. "Living as an openly gay man in the Deep South with a career in sports broadcasting, a career field that is traditionally highly homophobic, is incomprehensibly challenging. While I had developed emotional armor throughout my life, that armor was shattered earlier this week when my sexuality became the focus of local and national news headlines as a result of a hateful and homophobic Twitter attack from the official Twitter account of my employer."
WWL Radio's official Twitter account was used by someone to direct a gay slur at the sports talk show host Tuesday.
Dunlap had tweeted a link to a post he wrote about five overreactions to results from the first week of the National Football League’s 2019 regular season and asked which of those wasn’t actually an overreaction.
Someone logged into WWL Radio’s verified Twitter account and retweeted Dunlap, adding, “That you’re a fag.”
Minutes later, the tweet was deleted from the station’s account. But it didn’t vanish before many people screen-captured the tweet, ensuring the story went national overnight in sports circles.
Kiefer, an attorney who has worked on LGBT issues, wouldn't comment on whether Dunlap planned to take legal action against WWL Radio down the road.
"Seth reached out to me ... to help him navigate this intense attention coming from local and national media solely due to his position as a gay man flourishing in this heterosexually-dominated sports world," Kiefer said. "He's very affected by this, and that's where our focus is right now: to send a message to everyone that this is not okay, this is intolerable, and if there's any LGBTQ people struggling, that they're not alone." Kiefer said Dunlap intended "to stand up for what is right. ... Categorically, this hate speech is unacceptable at the workplace or anywhere."
Kiefer declined comment on WWL Radio's investigation other than to say that she was unaware if the station had yet identified the person responsible for the tweet.
Dunlap’s statement comes as station management has been investigating current and past employees who have had access to the Twitter account. They're looking to determine who sent the offensive tweet Tuesday from an iPhone, a move that set off a controversy that has lasted all week.
It is not clear if that investigation has wrapped up, when it may conclude or if it has identified any suspects.
Days before the tweet, Dunlap had written a lengthy Facebook post about the difficulties he’d faced working in sports media as a gay man. That post was an open letter to Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who at that point had been ensnared in his own controversy by appearing in a video that was created by Focus on the Family — whose anti-LGBTQ stances are well documented — to promote Oct. 3 as “Bring Your Bible to School Day.”
Hours after the slur toward Dunlap appeared on the station’s account, WWL Radio said it was “categorically offensive and abhorrent.” The station also promised an internal investigation which would result in “swift and appropriate action once we determine how this occurred.”
One day later, WWL senior vice president Kevin Cassidy sent an internal memo expressing support for Dunlap. The station’s management didn’t issue any other statements, however, saying it wasn’t allowed to speak until parent company Entercom investigated. Hosts had since discussed the incident on their shows but refrained from giving updates on where the investigation into the tweet stood.
Dunlap hosted his evening show, “The Last Lap With Seth Dunlap,” on Tuesday night, tweeting, “I’m just going to really enjoy knowing somebody is exceptionally upset I get to talk sports every night for a living.”
But that was the last time he was on the air. He took the next night off, saying he wanted to “reflect and decompress” after being overwhelmed by the reaction to the tweet from a day earlier.
"Many people had asked why I chose to take a leave of absence from my duties on-air, believing that I was ‘letting bigotry win.’," he wrote in his statement. "This isn’t about winning or losing to me. Rather, it is a painful step that I had to take to step away from a job that I love for my emotional and mental well-being."
Dunlap's full statement:
Living as an openly gay man can be difficult. Living as an openly gay man in the Deep South is even more difficult. Living as an openly gay man in the Deep South with a career in sports broadcasting, a career field that is traditionally highly homophobic, is incomprehensibly challenging. While I had developed emotional armor throughout my life, that armor was shattered earlier this week when my sexuality became the focus of local and national news headlines as a result of a hateful and homophobic Twitter attack from the official Twitter account of my employer.
I never wanted to be ‘That Gay Sportscaster.’ I’ve only ever wanted to be an exceptional sports broadcaster who happens to be gay. While I’ve been open about my sexuality in my personal life since my early-twenties, it’s not something that I discuss on the air, nor in my columns or blogs. The focus has always been on doing my job and doing it well. I feel like that focus has been unceremoniously ripped away from me.
Many people had asked why I chose to take a leave of absence from my duties on-air, believing that I was ‘letting bigotry win.’ This isn’t about winning or losing to me. Rather, it is a painful step that I had to take to step away from a job that I love for my emotional and mental well-being.
While I have suffered greatly, this attack was not just about me. While I may have been the one directly and publicly shamed with the use of an unacceptable slur disseminated on social media, the target was really the entire LGBTQ+ community. That community, my community, is subjected to that sort of vile language and hate on a daily basis. Look inside the comments, replies, or DM’s to any openly LGBTQ+ person and you’ll easily find similar disgusting, foul attacks. This incident just peeled back the curtain a bit for people to see the ugliness that surrounds us.
I truly believe this targeted attack was, in part, the result of deteriorating civil discourse in our country. Powerful men and women have decided to make hate, bigotry, and divisiveness platforms for their advancement in public life. It’s apparent that far too many people have forgotten the ugly lessons of the past, and this growing divide threatens to shatter the very foundations of an equal and welcoming society.
What happened on Twitter earlier this week is a symptom of that sickness. To my colleagues in the media and those covering or following this story, I ask that you turn the focus to the impact this has on, and the serious challenged facing, the LGBTQ+ community. There are too many spaces and workplaces where overt hate and bigotry are not only tolerated, but actively promoted. Because queer people fear for their job security, as well as retaliation from those in positions of power, these incidents almost always go unreported or are swept under the rug. This is unacceptable.
To all of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people out there, especially our youth, please do not be afraid to speak out when you are subjected to hate or bigoted attacks. Know that you are supported and loved by so many people, and that only by using your voice to speak out will change happen. That change is always incremental and tediously slow, but it will happen. Do not lose hope.
I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from all across the world this week. I plan on continuing to be the best person I can be, and using my platform to speak out against injustice wherever and whenever I see it.
In the short term, I would ask that you respect my privacy and process, and direct your questions instead to my attorney, Megan C. Kiefer.