WCCO TV and radio sports anchor Mike Max is a long-time familiar face and voice covering local athletes. But for a few days, once curfew rolled around, people turned on the TV for his interviews with protesters. Minnesota watched as an uprising took over south Minneapolis following George Floyd’s death, and Max was there to show us. And while he was not in his natural element, covering the Vikings or getting post-game interviews, he rose to the occasion.
Max gives credit to his news director, Kari Patey, who got him into the field on the night of Friday, May 29, when Gov. Walz set the first curfew. “I felt so bad that I didn’t stick around [after the 3rd precinct burned down]. The next day I offered to help,” Max says. At 10 p.m. that Friday, the highways were shut down due to the demonstrators. Patey needed someone there, and Max was on the job. “I learned to never say ‘If you need any help let me know’ again,” Max jokes. He followed the demonstrators toward the 5th precinct in south Minneapolis, where he started to establish himself among them.
Over the following nights, Max and the protesters got to know each other, and he started to get a better feel for the atmosphere. While his experience reporting on sports helped, Max says that it actually hearkened back to the days where he was playing sports. He says that everything was constantly changing, and he was always adjusting his plan.
“The whole mindset of competing is, you gotta adjust on the fly,” he says. “It was first and 10, and now it’s second and 20, you gotta figure the way out.” And while we were watching at home doing our best to sort everything out, Max was right in the action. Just as he approaches players after big games and tough losses, he built that rapport quickly with the protesters, “It’s their story. It doesn’t matter if we agree. It’s not my story, it’s their story.” His approach was, “Tell me why you do what you do.”
And that’s how he was able to find the humanity in the midst of everything. When he was able to speak with the demonstrators, he found two things. First, most were from Minnesota, despite other rumors. And second, “They were nice people. The vast majority of them were there peacefully.” At first this surprised Max, but the more he mingled among them, the more he found this to be true. By the time he interviewed two protesters being arrested, he says that interview didn’t surprise him at all.
The interview shows two arrested demonstrators not holding any animosity toward their arresting officers. To Max, it was an “incredible piece of humanity” to see the bonding between the officers and the demonstrators. One demonstrator he interviewed said, “At the end of the day we’re human. He’s got a family, he’s got friends, I’ve got a family, I’ve got friends. We just want to go home to the people we love.” That seemed to be a common theme in Max’s interactions and interviews.
“Based on what I’ve observed, the people I’ve talked to, we can’t legislate ourselves out of this,” Max says. “There needs to be a social bond. The difference between hearts of protesters and law enforcement is razor thin. They could be neighbors. They’re not enemies. I’m proud to see both sides as Minnesotans.”
And thanks to the confidence and trust in his team, he says he would do it again in a nanosecond. “Just say the word,” he says. While Mike Max is known as the sports guy, his quick stint covering the protests will stick with him—and Minnesota—for a long time to come.
On weeknights, watch Mike Max at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on WCCO-TV 4, and listen to Sports to the Max at 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m., on WCCO 830-AM.