Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Gay Sports Challenge

Saturday Sportscast

The Gay Sports Challenge

I think the gay gene is a bit broader than just Broadway musicals and interior decorating, but very often it just gets blocked when it comes to sports. I am certainly not the most athletic guy around and anyone who has ridden in my car lately knows that with the satellite radio, I’m either listening to showtunes or dance music.

But on weekend afternoons, you are as likely to find me in front of the television watching football or basketball. Fortunately, there are only about six weeks in the summer when neither is on (sorry, arena football does not yet count). I enjoy baseball if I can attend the game, but I have not found a sportscaster who can bring baseball as alive on television as the old radio announcers did in the generations when television was in its infancy. Football and basketball I understand enough that I don’t need an announcer telling me what is going on – I did do football play-by-play (and track) for almost ten years.

Last week a friend asked me to watch one of the college bowl games with him and made the suggestion that we could watch it at his house or go to a bar. I killed the bar idea because I talk too much during the games. Those ten years of play-by-play are hard to give up. I’m calling the play, where the ball is downed, and all the details ahead of the announcers on television. I don’t have the rosters memorized like I used to do when calling the high school games, but I do know most of the key players by the end of the first quarter in college games.

It was a pleasure to spend the game with him because I have such a struggle finding a gay friend with whom I can watch sports. Despite the striving for physical perfection in the gay community, a certain disdain for actual athletic competition comes up when a reference is made to professional sports. It is one thing to spend hours in the gym each week but quite another to enjoy men who spend even more time in the gym challenging each other on the playing field. I have always been challenged to understand that disconnect.

The disconnect continues when it comes to participation – there are gay sports leagues in most major cities for softball, volleyball, rugby (yeah rugby men!), and basketball. They Gay Games traditionally follows the Olympic calendar and the Olympic host cities. Even many of those participants do not follow professional sports. Every good friend I have who is active in any of the gay sports leagues (and who have competed in the Gay Games) still reject professional sports.

In the past year there have been rumors or professional athletes who are gay and one former professional basketball player actually came out as well as former professional football players. Sadly, no currently active team male athlete has come out as gay. The lack of active gay athletes is costing the leagues the gay support.

I think the lack of out gay players has created the gay sports challenge. Despite the quest for physical perfection and the enjoyment of playing sports with other gay men, the absence of gay athletes has turned off the connection to professional sports. When we have a superstar quarterback or power forward or home-run slugger come out as gay, to put it in economic terms, the gay dollars will come flowing into that sport.

The gay community has made remarkable progress in almost every aspect of society but sports remains a frontier to be crossed. I am not a fan of outing people. Coming out is too personal to be forced (unless you are a homophobic homosexual politician who is doing harm to the community by your lies). Professional athletes, performers, and each of us has the right to make that decision, but I do implore the gay athletes to take that stand and begin to change the attitudes affecting homosexuals in sports. It has worked in politics, entertainment and in most professional settings. It is time for gay male athletes to step up to the plate, so to speak.

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