You’re gonna need a bigger box of Kleenex for this emotionally charged ESPN Pride month mini-documentary about Tom Ammiano’s varsity letter saga, which includes the moment he received the sweater he’d been denied for 63 years.
One did not expect flamboyant blue-haired gay rights crusader Tom Ammiano to show up on ESPN SportsCenter Sunday night, particularly in a segment inspired by a memoir entitled Kiss My Gay Ass. But readers of this blog know that in March, the trailblazing former SF Supervisor and state Assemblymember recently received the 1958 high school track varsity letter he had been denied at Immaculate Conception High School in Montclair, New Jersey. Now 63 years later, Ammiano details that it was one particularly homophobic high school coach who orchestrated the dismissal of his varsity letter — the same coach who’d punched him in the kidney earlier in the season — as Ammiano told his story in the seven-minute documentary Nowhere To Run that aired during SportsCenter last night, and is seen in its entirety below.
SportsCenter does these mini-documentaries every Sunday night, and they’re always well-produced, as is this one. We see stunning archival footage of Ammiano’s stand-up comedy routines in the 1980s, his Pride Parade float from the 1990s, and even old home movies of “little Tommy Ammiano” in middle school.
Sunday, #SCFeatured tells the story of Tom Ammiano— ESPN Front Row (@ESPNFrontRow) June 11, 2021
He believed his effeminate mannerisms led his N.J. high school to deny him a varsity letter in track & field 60+ years ago
Now 79, Ammiano is set to receive the letter
'Nowhere to Run' | 8a ET | ESPNhttps://t.co/9hUX3RDvwL pic.twitter.com/rxerTn25H9
Ammiano pulls no punches (and of course withholds no profanities) in describing the torment he went through, knowing he was denied the letter because he was gay, but being unable to publicly admit he was gay. “Telling the people it didn’t happen, and then trying to figure out why, I wasn’t going to tell them. ‘It’s because I’m a fag, and they think I’m a fag.’ I couldn’t bring myself to do that,” he told ESPN. “Those things still hurt, even a hundred years later.”
It was not quite a hundred years later when Ammiano appeared on KQED in December 2020 and casually retold the story while promoting his memoir. He did not know that in the radio audience was a person he’d never met, a cybersecurity specialist named Steven Saxton, who was inspired by the segment to write a letter to Immaculate Conception High School asking Ammiano be given the varsity letter retroactively. The letter is featured in the segment, and its words are moving.
But most moving is seeing Amminao actually receive the package, and carefully open the box with 63 years of built-up anticipation. He finds they custom-made him a special edition varsity letter sweater. “It even has some glitter on it!,” Ammiano exclaims.