Local News

Army basketball player given life by two fathers from Raleigh

Posted December 1, 2014 6:13 p.m. EST
Updated December 1, 2014 6:43 p.m. EST

— Army senior guard Max Lenox was held scoreless Sunday in a loss to No. 4 Duke, but playing on the hardwood at Cameron Indoor Stadium, in front of his two fathers, is an experience that cannot be measured by simple statistics.

Lenox’s story started 22 years ago when he, a black child born to a drug-addicted mother in Philadelphia, was adopted by two white gay men from North Carolina.

“We just wanted to be a normal family,” Dave Lenox said. “We didn't want (it) to be an issue.”

Max Lenox’s adoption to Dave Lenox and Nathan Merrells was aided by Lutheran Family Services in Raleigh. 

Sandy Deutsch, who helped coordinate the adoption, was asked if she was concerned about two gay white men adopting a black child. “That was probably the least of my considerations,” she said.

Deutsch instead saw love and stability.

“We just assumed acceptance everywhere we went,” Dave Lenox said. “And if people didn't have acceptance, we hoped that they had the good grace to talk about us behind our back so we didn't have to hear it; because we really didn't care what they said. We had to raise kids. We had to just be a family.”

The adoption of Max meant that Merrells also had to come out to his family. That didn't go over well with his parents -- or some Raleigh churches that refused to baptize Max.

“A, I'm gay. B, we have a child. C, he's black,” said Merrells, reflecting on that time.

But honesty, openness and determination led the family into a happy place. Pullen Memorial Baptist Church eventually welcomed Max, and his dads later adopted his sister, Erin.

“That these two men would adopt a child who had such a rough beginning and love him so deeply…” said Nancy Petty, Pullen Memorial Baptist pastor. “Max taught us all something and is still teaching us about what it is to persevere, to love.”

The family moved to Virginia in the late 90s, but unconditional love and perseverance brought the story back home for the Black Knights’ captain.

Max Lenox has faced injury and academic struggles during his time at West Point, but at season’s end, he will be graduating and entering the United States Army as an officer.

“They did two things: they saved his life and they gave him a life,” said Deutsch. “They gave him all the opportunities to be who he is.”

Max Lenox was the subject of a Sports Illustrated article last month and, after its publishing, had an opportunity to reconnect with his family. In that story, he was quoted of saying, “My parents were good to me. I kind of took pride in that I was different.”