Mike Max looked on as what appeared to be smoke came his way, unfamiliar with what he was about to endure.

Until someone shouted.

“Get down! It’s tear gas!” the WCCO-TV Channel 4 sports director heard late last Friday night. “Well, it was too late. We bit it, and we bit it big, myself and the crew. That knocked us out.”

But only for a brief period. Soon after, Max and his crew were back in action, repositioning themselves back in the street to get a better view of the White Castle and Wells Fargo buildings burning near the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct.

A day earlier, Max was a sports reporter. Now, he was a go-to source for information on one of the biggest events in recent state history.

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Max left the office after completing the 10 p.m. newscast Thursday and went home. There, he viewed the rest of WCCO’s coverage that night, watching from afar as the MPD’s 3rd Precinct went up in flames.

He had offered his services to WCCO-TV news director Kari Patey earlier in the week, but hadn’t yet been asked to hit the streets.

Max had kept close tabs on the case of George Floyd’s death — which has been classified a homicide by Hennepin County’s medical examiner — and the aftermath of it in the city. He provided ample coverage of both on his nightly radio show on WCCO radio, talking to the FBI and local athletes involved in the protests, such as former NBA player Royce White.

Max is a lifelong Minnesotan, a Hamline grad who hails from Gaylord, in the southern part of the state. He has covered many of the state’s biggest sporting moments over the past two decades, and was anchoring WCCO radio when the I-35W bridge collapsed in 2007.

The day after the 3rd Precinct burned, Max covered an athletes-driven rally and protest in downtown Minneapolis during the day. That night, he went back downtown with his crew to do a live shot for the newscast to set up his story. While there, the newsroom learned 35W had just been shut down, and WCCO needed someone on the scene.

Max asked Patey to go, she obliged, and away he went.

“And, of course, that’s kind of when everything changed,” Max said.


Max was on site when law enforcement dissolved the protest and everyone came running.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“We’re going to the 5th Precinct,” protesters told him.

“And you go, ‘Uh-oh,’ ” Max said. “Logically, what do you do? You go where they’re going.”

By the time Max and his crew arrived at the 5th Precinct, he still hadn’t seen any law enforcement. All of a sudden, that changed.

“I can’t believe I couldn’t hear them,” Max said. “But I turned around … and I saw this group of law enforcement walking in step right towards the precinct.”

They arrived in waves, armed and sporting gas masks and bulletproof vests. There were Humvees, and another wave of law enforcement behind those.

“It was like the cavalry just showed up. It was chilling. And you looked at that and you just said, ‘They are not giving this up,’ ” Max said.

Max takes some offense when people write him off as a “sports guy,” as if that’s all he or other sports reporters are capable of covering.

“You don’t need a PhD to do news,” he said. “We cover what we cover.”

And, ideally, you go about it the same way. Max’s approach was simple: “Show them what we can see.” That is what he did. Max simply tried to lay out what was in front of him.

“Nobody has any answers on this. You can’t be wrong, as long as you’re just describing what you see,” Max said. “Here are these people, here is the fire, here is the truck.”

The people

Max’s reporting, whether in sports or news, has always centered on the people involved and their stories, from the youth level to the pros. He loves having a front-row seat to human behavior, calling it “a wonderful gift” to cover such a thing.

“I always find it fascinating how people think and what motivates them and why are they there,” Max said. “That’s why I’ve always been in sports, because I think sports is like life on steroids.”

So while it might not have looked like much to you when Max was set up at a gas station when a crowd of protesters who had been arrested and were simply waiting for transport, Max was fascinated. He noted the interactions between the protesters and law enforcement officials, seeing that “in a lot of respects, there’s not that much difference between the people protesting and the people arresting the protesters. Some ideology, but there’s not nearly as profound a difference as I would’ve thought going in.”

He interviewed protesters who had their hands tied behind their backs and asked them about their cause, their feelings in that moment and if they had any regrets about being arrested. Their responses provided some of the most important commentary of the night.

“I’ve learned that every person deserves love from other people,” one protester said. “It’s really opened my eyes. I don’t have no hate towards these police officers, I really don’t. I just want everyone to come together and treat each other equally.”

If Max was criticized for one piece of his protest reporting, it was that he rarely wore a mask during his time on the streets — a no-no to most during the coronavirus pandemic.

There was a reason for that. Amid the mayhem, he wanted sports fans, or even people he covered when they were in high school, to spot him and potentially start a conversation, which could lead to on-air interviews with the people at the heart of the issues. That’s how he found a woman who came under fire from law enforcement as she worked in a medical tent, plus a man shot by a tear gas bullet.


Max witnessed so many things during his week on the ground level, from showings of humanity to the law enforcement’s tactical precision to the willingness of local business owners to personally defend their own American dreams.

“I didn’t realize the resolve they had until I spent time with them,” he said. “When push came to shove, they were not going to let them burn their city down anymore.”

With each passing night, the appreciation for Max’s reporting seemed to grow. At one point, he was the No. 1 trending local topic on Twitter.

But Max has never once looked at Twitter, and has no idea how to log onto the platform. The only feedback he received was from friends and acquaintances who would send an occasional text, including one from Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who was watching the protests from his offseason home in Kentucky.