CHICAGO – Sharing a vulnerability uncommon among sports radio hosts, WSCR-AM Dan McNeil laid himself bare in a post-midnight Facebook post a few weeks ago.
McNeil, 57, apparently was triggered by a text from a listener who informed McNeil he’d selected the radio host in the listener’s so-called dead pool. Winners in the grim game score more points by predicting the deaths of those still relatively young.
Despite initially laughing off the note as he might on the air — “Give the dude credit for a sound investment strategy; I’m a good ‘value pick’ in a pool like that” — McNeil then shifted his tone, responding with soulful ruminations on living with vices, mental health problems and thoughts of suicide.
Then he shared the impact he imagined his death would have on his three grown sons.
“I must confess, this guy got to me,” McNeil wrote. “I even cried a few times. Daydreaming about my sons’ sadness over the void in their lives is an optic I’d just as soon avoid.
“What kind of human has so much contempt for a radio show, he wishes for — at the minimum, bets on — a guy’s death? So, hoping that guy is reading this, as I did on the air, hoping he was listening. I want him to quickly meet my sons, now bereaved by the loss of their dad.”
McNeil envisioned Van, 28, dumping his ashes up in Eagle Lake, Ontario.
“I want him to do it in the water where he releases his next” muskie, he wrote, urging his eldest to “sing a fishing parody we did and laugh.”
McNeil said he hoped his youngest son, Jack, 24, would steer clear of sadness the first time he plays drums in front of a crowd of 500.
But most affecting were McNeil’s reflections on autistic son Patrick, 25.
“His sadness is my biggest fear,” McNeil wrote. “Fear isn’t strong enough. It takes my breath away. He doesn’t have typical friends. He’s verbal but not conversational. I am his life soul mate and he is mine.”
But McNeil also took unsparing and clear-eyed stock of himself as he edges toward the end of middle-age.
“I still smoke,” McNeil wrote. “Still 30 pounds too fat. I love coffee. Exercise is finding the remote when it’s lost in the sofa cushions.
“Mental illness runs in my family. I’ve been diagnosed depressive … I take a psych med, Lamotrigine, and do talk therapy. I do my best to have gratitude therapy at least once a day.”
McNeil then noted that the children of a parent who dies by suicide are more likely to do the same. “Bet the texter who took me didn’t know I even had that on my dead pool candidate résumé,” wrote McNeil, who returned to WSCR-AM in 2018 for his third stint in his 30-year-plus Chicago sports radio career.
“Sometimes I get defensive,” he said resolutely, “but I don’t think I’m fragile.”
In a later interview, McNeil said he felt fine. He called the feedback he received regarding the Facebook post, as well as an earlier on-air discussion, “amazing.”
“Sometimes I get a therapeutic benefit, as clichéd as this sounds, from navigating my way through darkness publicly to find some light,” he said.
McNeil said he hasn’t “been happier at work in many years” and has “stopped doubting if I want to do this for a lot longer because I have got the right guys around me and I’m in a good place.”