Hamline News

Protest Novice Found and Shared Human Connection Amid Chaos

MikeMax-Story

Gaylord, Minnesota, is 55 miles from St. Paul as the crow flies. Yet, thanks in part to the recent efforts of one Hamline graduate from that small town, distance between people is now being measured in a completely different fashion.

Mike Max '87 is sports director at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis and has had a show on WCCO-AM radio, “Sports to the Max,” for 22 years. Since graduating, he’s seen a lot on our fields of play — two World Series championships for his beloved Twins, innumerable near misses by the Vikings and much more nobody could have foreseen.

The death of George Floyd catapulted Max into the national spotlight due to live reporting that drew a lot of attention.

“It was a one-night thing,” Max said. “It wasn’t a big stretch for me to go out into the field because I’ve done news before, but I guess it all surprised me.”

Max offered his services to the news desk and WCCO news director Kari Patey '99. The two Hamline grads decided the time was right for Max to head out into the protests and do what he does best.

“Mike is a guy of great heart, a hunger for a story that any good reporter has,” Patey said. “He’s a reporter’s reporter. Sending him out there made sense to me.”

The “reporter’s reporter” then went onto the streets of Minneapolis and made world headlines.

Max interviewed protestors. And he did it in a sensitive way that quickly went viral on social media.

At a time when tensions were as high as they have ever been in the city of Minneapolis, Mike Max found a way to bring people together on live television in a way no one had seen before.

Bobby & Steve’s Auto World has a location on Washington Avenue and 35W near downtown Minneapolis. It was the place to be for Max on Sunday, May 31.

By that time, protests were commonplace across the Twin Cities, but Max, who had volunteered to go into the streets when protestors tried to close the Hennepin Avenue Bridge on Friday, May 29, and experienced tear gas along with the protestors, eventually saw something different.

After a tense start to the evening, Max saw protestors and law enforcement mingling together — sometimes even after the protestors had been arrested.

“I think I felt every emotion you can feel when I was out there,” Max said. “I started with fear but quickly moved to shock. There was a feeling of ‘what is happening to my city; how have we gotten to this point that they’re burning down Lake Street right in front of me,’ but mainly an awful lot of feeling of connection to the people I was covering. I felt everything.”

That Sunday night, Max was interviewing protestors who were standing alongside officers, creating remarkable live television and getting a second education in the process. “I had never seen a live protest before,” Max said. “I had never seen a demonstration up close, never seen law enforcement work up close. I was impressed with everyone.”

That was especially true of the protestors, some of whom talked amicably with officers who had just taken them into custody for curfew violations. He was also grateful for the support he received from the faith community around the protests.

“Ministers, rabbis — I saw three African American female ministers and they said they were praying for me,” Max recalled. “I had nothing in common with them before this happened except Christian faith, and they told me they all prayed at once for me. That blew me away.”

In hindsight, Max credits Hamline for helping make him into the reporter he was on May 31.

“I grew up in a certain way,” Max said. “It [Hamline] was a diverse campus, and I came from an all-white place, a small-town kid. I wasn’t around people of color.”

Coming to Hamline, where he played basketball for one season and baseball for four, fixed that.

“It was a diverse place where we were all drawn,” he said. “I met a lot of people who think differently than I do, in a good way. All that diverse thought, I think I just matured and found myself while I was there.”

Max is a second-generation Hamline student, whose mother (Barb Beck Max '61) studied nursing at the university.

“We’ve never bragged about ourselves,” Max said in reference to Hamline, “but it’s a special place.”

Overall, though, Max was filled with a sense of sadness about the news he was covering.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that in the year 2020, Minnesota had the event that triggered all this,” he said. “But the way people responded showed me that everyone has the same dream, and I couldn’t have seen that before.”

View video of Mike Max's coverage.

7/21/2020
Written by Jeff Papas