ESPN Radio's Steve Mason used Atlanta Falcons NFL Combine questions to come out as gay

How do you come out when everybody knows who you are? At least, when they think they do. That's been the struggle in the mind of Los Angeles ESPN Radio host Steve Mason -- and really, so many other well-known people living a publicly closeted life -- for quite some time.

I've known Mason for about a decade. He hasn't kept his sexual orientation a secret from people in his personal life, and many in his professional life have known for years that Mason is gay. Yet something always held him back from sharing it publicly on air with his listeners. He never said anything anti-gay, and he was always very supportive of LGBT issues and causes. I've been blessed to join him and his longtime radio co-host, John Ireland, on-air on ESPN AM 710 in Los Angeles many times.

Mason tried to come out a couple months ago. Shortly after Rajon Rondo called NBA referee Bill Kennedy a gay slur, Mason recorded a podcast with Ramona Shelburne, opening up about his partner of 10 years and hiding behind the microphone all of these years. Los Angeles Dodgers executive Erik Braverman had also very recently come out publicly. Braverman and Mason worked together at ESPN Radio about a decade ago.

The podcast, while certainly fun and warm, just wasn't Mason. For the often wise-cracking radio host with a deep love and knowledge for Los Angeles sports, making some announcement -- "I have something to talk about, and that's the fact that I'm gay" -- just wasn't... him.

Last Friday, Mason did it his way. It was pitch-perfect for him, so much so that you wouldn't have even known Mason was revealing his truth unless you already knew it.

Talking about the Atlanta Falcons' inappropriate questions about the sexual orientation of NFL prospect Eli Apple, Mason and Ireland engaged in a "mock" interview, with Ireland asking Mason about his attraction to men. While they were mocking the Falcons' interview process, Mason answered the questions as himself. His repeatedly answering the question about liking men was no accident.

Ireland: Do you like men?

Mason: Yes. [Then later] Ask me again.

Ireland: Do you like men?

Mason: Yes.

Ireland: How about if I ask you the other way. [In another tone] Do you like men?

Mason: Either way. [Then later] Ask me again.

Ireland: Do you like men?

Mason: Yes.

Ireland: Do you like men or women?

Mason: Men.

Ireland: Why didn't you come out in college?

Mason: Nobody asked.

Ireland: When Michael Sam came out, why didn't you show support for him and come out?

Mason: It wasn't my thing.

Ireland: You're uncomfortable saying you're gay?

Mason: No, I just don't want it to be my thing.

Ireland: So you want us to keep it a secret?

Mason: No. I just don't want to talk about it.

Ireland: You're totally not rattled.

Mason: The irony here is so ridiculous in so many different ways.

The "insider joke" was not lost on at least one listener:

We get it, Mase is into men, next lol @VeniceMase @LAIreland

— Alex Martinez (@InlandEmpireBox) March 4, 2016

Continuing the irony, Mason and Ireland were then joined on the show by Israel Gutierrez, the ESPN NBA commentator who came out publicly last autumn.

That answer -- "I just don't want it to be my thing" -- rings particularly true. For Mason, like so many other gay people in sports, sexual orientation is just one of their identities. They want to be most-known for their endeavors, their hard work, the determination that has gotten them to the top. With every Mason and Gutierrez and Sam who comes out, that becomes infinitely more possible for the next person.

Mason has nothing to worry about. Like Gutierrez, he is known first, second and third for his sports commentary. That he is gay will be a blurb on the 72nd line of his Wikipedia page. "Mason and Ireland" will get some phone calls of congratulations on Monday, some texts will pour in by Tuesday, and by Wednesday afternoon it will be back to complaining about the Lakers and some high hopes for the Dodgers.

That's how it should be.

Congratulations, Steve! As I said, this revelation will help more people than you'll ever realize. For the people who need to hear your message, it will linger. I'm proud of you.

This has been reposted from Outsports.