ESPN journalist M.A. Voepel announced on Twitter Wednesday that he is transitioning, and will be using he/him pronouns. The 48-year-old, who the network has called "the foremost authority on women's basketball," is an award-winning veteran of sports journalism, and joined ESPN in 1996.
Voepel said that his recent winning of the prestigious Curt Gowdy Media Award — alongside fellow journalists Walt Fraizer and Dick Ebersol — was the impetus for sharing his identity publicly.
"I have the great honor of receiving [the] Gowdy Award next month from Naismith Hall of Fame, and wanted to do that as [my] authentic self, hence this announcement now," he wrote. "Fear can keep us paralyzed for decades, especially when we think we will lose all that is dear to us, including [our] career."
Transgender athletes, particularly in schools, have sparked a wave of controversy in recent years, with 29 states introducing legislation in 2022 that would bar trans youth from competing in athletics, according to the ACLU. Those with bans in effect include , , and .
The NBA made headlines in 2016 when it moved the location of the All-Star game from North Carolina after the state passed HB2, which forced trans people to use public bathrooms that correspond with their gender assigned at birth.
In a statement posted to Twitter at the time, the NBA said, "We are deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect." The state's so called "bathroom bill" was .
More recently, the NBA decided to proceed with plans to hold its 2023 All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah, despite the passing of HB11, which.
In his message Wednesday, Voepel said he is "grateful for a company that supports all of its employees, for terrific family and friends, and for societal progress."
Despite some progress, data shows transgender Americans remain a vulnerable population. In 2019, the American Medical Association adopted new policies to curtail what it referred to as "an epidemic of violence against the transgender community," but last year was still the for trans Americans. At least 47 trans and gender non-conforming people were murdered, most of whom were transgender people of color.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality's U.S. Trans Survey — the largest survey of transgender people to date, which was published in 2015 — 40% of respondents stated that they have attempted suicide in their lifetime, a number that is nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the general U.S. population. The same survey found that the year prior, 46% of respondents were verbally harassed and 9% had been physically attacked on the basis of their gender identity, with nearly half also reporting that they had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
Stories like Voepel's not only provide much-needed hope, but are proven to make a difference. An analysis of 56 peer-reviewed works by the What We Know Project found that in 93% of the studies, gender transition improved the overall well-being of trans respondents.
"At some point, you realize you need to have faith that your happiness/well-being is worth pursuing, and also have faith in other people's kindness and grace," Voepel wrote.
"Glad to be who I've always been inside," he concluded. "Dedication to covering women's sports, a lifelong joy as well as job, and admiration for all involved – players, coaches, execs, fans, referees, colleagues – that stays exactly the same. Thanks!"