Positive Thoughts

A passel of Pride

  • June 26, 2014 - 12:25am

Gay Pride Month is June, but the party doesn’t end there. So let’s hoist the rainbow flag, drink a toast (with the alcohol of a gay-friendly sponsor) and honor the LGBT athletes who make us proud.

The biggest – physically, anyway – is Jason Collins. The NBA player made us proud when he came out as the first active male pro sport athlete. Dozens of former teammates – and many opponents – made us proud when they tweeted sincere messages of congratulations the moment the news broke. The Brooklyn Nets made us proud when they signed him to a 10-day contract – not because he was gay, but because they needed a strong, experienced veteran to bring maturity to their locker room. Then the Nets liked him so much, they extended his contract. And NBA fans made us proud by making Jason Collins’ souvenir jersey the best-selling one in all of sports. Let’s go Nets!

Another big story – physically too – is Michael Sam. The University of Missouri star made us proud by coming out publicly a month before the NFL draft. (He’d been out to his team for a long time; they and their coaches made us proud by supporting him strongly, en route to a kick-ass season.) Mizzou fans made us proud (and shattered East and West Coast stereotypes) with their fervent embrace of him. ESPN made us proud by showing him kissing his boyfriend after Sam’s name was called in the draft. And Sam made us very, very proud with that kiss.  It – and his tears of joy – were the exact same reactions as all the other macho, straight NFL draftees have. We are proud that all of America saw it.

Robbie Rogers made us proud when he came out, soon after retiring from Major League Soccer. (He had a drink of water with the national team too.) He made us even prouder when he returned to the sport, signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy. And soccer fans around North America – particularly those in the Cascadia region of Portland, Seattle and Vancouver – have made us tremendously proud by their heartfelt, vocal and very clever signs of support not just of Rogers, but of the entire “You Can Play”/gays-in sport movement. It takes a village – or, more appropriately, an entire stadium. And MLS has ’em.

We were proud when English Olympic diver Tom Daley came out – except, some of us were not proud because he didn’t exactly come out. He said, “Right now I’m dating a guy, and I couldn’t be happier.” Then he said, “Of course I still fancy girls.” Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being bisexual – but Daley didn’t use the “B” word either. (Eventually we learned that the “guy” is Dustin Lance Black.) Some members of the LGBT community are proud to have a top-level athlete like Daley in our midst. Others wish he’d embrace his sexuality more fully. Still others point to his non-disclosure disclosure as a sign that times are changing for the better. Labels don’t matter, they say; just be proud of who you are.

We are proud of Brittney Griner, for sure. One of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time plays on our team. But while part of us is very proud of her talent, her competitiveness and her honesty, another part is not proud at the way female athletes are marginalized. Her coming-out announcement should have been huge news, on par with those of Jason Collins, Michael Sam and Robbie Rogers. In her sport, she’s even bigger than they are. But it wasn’t. We’re not proud that female athletes – and lesbians – still have a long way to go.

We are not proud that the Winter Olympics were held in Sochi. Russia’s gay rights record is abysmal, and President Vladimir Putin didn’t even pretend to whitewash it. Instead, he warned gay visitors not to spread “gay propaganda.” We were not proud that governments and Olympic committees around the world did not raise more of a protest. We were not proud that none of the athletes – or their allies – raised a rainbow flag in protest. On the other hand, we should probably be proud that the Russians did not arrest, intimidate or even harass any LGBT folks. Small victories and all that.

But that was winter. Now summer is here, and Pride is busting out all over. Yet with all we have to be proud of, the most Pride-worthy folks are the men and women – and boys and girls – who are out and proud, as college and high school athletes. They don’t get nearly as much attention as the Jason Collinses, Michael Sams and Robbie Rogerses. But they are our true, and very prideful, champions.  

‘If you can play...’

  • June 26, 2014 - 12:23am

“If you can dribble, you can dribble.” “If you can dive, you can dive.” “If you can coach, you can coach.”

On paper, the words look kind of odd – not to mention, obvious. But when they’re spoken – out loud, with passion, by hundreds of different athletes and coaches, from dozens of different professional, college and high school sports teams – they take on power and meaning.

What those men and women – shown throwing baseballs, juggling soccer balls, skiing down mountains and doing all kinds of other sporty things – are saying is, “If you are an athlete, you can be an athlete on my team. I don’t care about your sexual orientation. I want you here, to help me win.”

That’s a mouthful. How much easier just to say, “If you can play, you can play.”

They say it on camera, in a momentum-gathering and very compelling series of videos coordinated by the You Can Play project. Those clips are online at www.YouCanPlayProject.org. Be warned: If you click the link, you better have time. Each video is only a minute or two long, but you can’t watch only one. They’re addictive.

The first video was posted in March of 2012. It was the brainchild of Patrick Burke, whose brother Brendan Burke – the openly gay and much-admired student manager of the Miami University hockey team – was killed in an automobile accident. The Burkes’ father, Brian, is a well-known National Hockey League and U.S. hockey executive. So it’s no surprise that the initial “You Can Play” video came from the NHL. A dozen pro players said, basically, “If you can skate, you can skate.”

Like the viral takeoffs on “Call Me Maybe,” each “You Can Play” video follows a basic script. But – like their music counterparts – each shows individuality and flair.

Every school (and pro team, like Major League Soccer’s DC United) imparts its own spin to the main message. Some include clever touches, like a mascot. Others do something else to make the video their own.

While many athletes say “It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight” – and others add “or bisexual or trans” – Dartmouth College players say, “your sexual orientation DOES matter.” So does “the color of your skin, your ethnicity and faith.” 

Why? “It matters because you are my teammate,” the Big Green athletes say. In other words, if something matters to you, it matters to everyone. And we’re there to encourage you.

“It takes courage to perform on the field,” one Dartmouth participant says. “But it shouldn’t take courage to go into your own locker room.”

(Interestingly, very few athletes’ names are used in any video. The idea is that the men and women on camera speak for everyone on their teams.)

UCLA is a storied program, with national championships in many sports. Jim Mora became the first Division I football coach to speak up for LGBT athletes. The Bruins’ quarterback also notched a “You Can Play” video first, with his appearance.

Notre Dame is another fabled sports school. The Fighting Irish video has drawn plenty of attention, because of the university’s Catholic roots and Midwestern location. As a Notre Dame alumnus, Patrick Burke is particularly proud of that one.

Boston College High drew attention because it too is Catholic – and a high school. BCHS athletes truly show what the school – which draws students from miles around – is all about.

Those high school athletes say “I am open to growth.” “I am committed to doing justice.” “I am religious.” “I am loving.” “I love to compete.” “I love my teammates.” And, they add: “It doesn’t matter if you’re from the city or suburbs, are tall or short, speak English as a first or second language, or are straight or gay. If you can work hard, we can work hard together.”

Another high school – Denver East – won a statewide video contest sponsored by the Colorado High School Activities Association. One after another, players from the school – whose alumni include Douglas Fairbanks, Mamie Eisenhower and Judy Collins – face the camera and say, “What matters is heart, talent and skill.” “When my teammates play, knowing they are accepted, they are better athletes.” “And I’m a better athlete. When they win, we all win.” “Not all teams look the same, or play the same way. But we all want to win. Anyone that helps us win is welcome on our team.”

Denver East wins. In fact, this winter they won the state high school boys basketball championship.

At Denver East – and the University of Wisconsin-Superior, Middlebury College, Brown University; on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Omaha Lancers; all throughout cyberspace, in fact – if your team is open-minded and cool, you can shoot a video.

Gay Games 2014

Gay Games 9 builds on the past

  • June 26, 2014 - 12:13am

The past year marked a watershed for LGBT sports. Athletes at every level – professional, college, high school and amateur – at first ventured, then flooded out of the closet. Media attention no longer treats gay athletes as exotic creatures, all but unheard of in the real world; stories now focus on more nuanced aspects of their lives. Homophobes are increasingly marginalized, banished from the sidelines to the back row of the bleachers.

In some ways (though we’re still waiting for that first huge-name pro male team-sport athlete to come out), LGBT athletics has reached the point we’ve long waited for: normalcy.

So does that mean there’s no longer any need for the Gay Games?

Thousands of athletes, a hefty lineup of corporate sponsors, and hundreds of paid and volunteer organizers beg to differ.

Gay Games 9 – the next edition of the event first held 32 years ago in San Francisco – is set for Aug. 9-16 in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. Patterned on the Olympic Games (but denied use of the “O” word by a legal challenge), the Gay Games are now an international spectacle.

Unlike the Olympics, anyone can participate. The Gay Games are open to all athletes 18 or older, “regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, political beliefs, athletic or artistic ability, age, physical challenge or health status.”

Realistically, of course, an event called “The Gay Games” draws competitors mostly from the LGBT community. Typically, about 10 percent are non-LGBT (most often, friends and family who participate to show support).

And, says Gay Games 9 marketing manager Matt Cordish, despite the increasing visibility, acceptance, even celebration of LGBT athletes in mainstream athletics, there remains a need for an event that is way gay.

“There are still people around the world who are ridiculed or hated for who they are,” says Cordish. “In the Gay Games, there is no judgment. This is an eye-opening opportunity for people who don’t have that acceptance or lack of judgment in the rest of their lives. We’re getting near the point when gay sports is a non-story. But there are still parts of the world where you can be punished, or even executed, for being gay.”

Cordish – who played soccer, lacrosse and baseball as a youth, and whose main sport is now ice hockey – spends a great deal of time on the road. Part of his job involves spreading the word about the Gay Games, urging individuals and teams to register. He hears stories every day about the power of athletics to change LGBT lives.

“One man told me how hard his life was growing up,” Cordish says. “He’s HIV-positive. But he got involved with sports, and he’s doing well. This is his reason to keep going.”

As in previous Gay Games, some participants this year are not out at all at home. Traveling to Cleveland, and taking part in this event, marks an enormous step for them.

Cordish acknowledges the strides made in recent years. Gay Games 9 will draw upon the visibility of newly out athletes, empowering those who are not yet out, while providing one more opportunity to show the general public that LGBT people are indeed everywhere. And, Cordish adds, “We do need an event that showcases the ideal that Gay Games founder Tom Waddell worked so hard to create: an environment free of judgment, where all athletes can perform their best.”

Those performances will take place in a broad array of sports: softball, track and field, soccer, swimming, rodeo, bowling, volleyball, rowing, even darts. Up to 9,000 participants are expected from around the world. Those numbers are on par with the number of athletes in the Summer Olympics. Like the Olympics, there are opening and closing ceremonies, a “Festival Village,” and plenty of parties. Plus, of course, corporate sponsors: Wells Fargo, United Airlines, KeyBank and more.

Unlike the Olympics, there are also “cultural” competitions, in band and chorus.

Organizers expect 20,000 additional guests, performers, spectators and volunteers. 

Regular Gay Games-goers may find a different environment than they’re used to. Cleveland and Akron are not exactly San Francisco – where the first two Games were held – nor are they Vancouver, New York City, Amsterdam, Sydney, Chicago or Cologne, the hosts of following events.

“There’s a thriving gay community in northeast Ohio,” Cordish says. “There’s no one defined area, like West Hollywood, the Castro or Boys Town. But we can go anywhere, and be ourselves.”

And the region has something few other Gay Games venues can boast: a PGA Tour stop. That’s Firestone Country Club, site of the golf competition.


Registrations are still being accepted for Gay Games 9. Go to http://gg2014.sportingpulse.com; enter “GoAllOut” where prompted, for $30 off the general registration price. Spectator packages are available too.

America Football Referee

Referees are (LGBT) people too

  • June 26, 2014 - 12:04am

As a young referee, Ryan Powell heard a coach yell at a youth soccer player: “Stop being a fairy! And PLAY!” Powell red-carded the coach. The official’s supervisor then called and said sharply, “Don’t let your personal life interfere with your work.”

Powell was upset. “That meant, as a gay man I should ignore remarks on the field. Well, the first lesson of refereeing is to have conviction. Blow the whistle, give the card, issue the send-off. I will never back down from that.”

Not long after, during an intense Under-17 boys game, Powell called a foul. After a brief scuffle, one player called another a “faggot.” Again, the referee issued a card. Again, there was a protest. Again, Powell was told not to let his personal feelings hamper his career.

Sports fans often focus on athletes, coaches and games. But without officials, there would be no matches. And as in every other aspect of life – including sports – some referees are gay or lesbian.

Ryan Powell is not his real name. He’s using an alias because he is not yet out to all his colleagues. He is not ready to be looked at as “the gay ref.” But he knows who he is. He’s proud of himself. And his story is very instructive.

When Powell was a high school senior, his coach made all the players become certified as referees. The idea was that they would learn more about the game. Powell enjoyed officiating (and the money he earned). He moved quickly up the ranks, earning praise as a fair, knowledgeable official.

Being a referee is “our way of giving back to the game,” Powell says. Referees have a great deal of influence over player development. “We teach the game as much as coaches,” he notes.

Powell came out to friends and family members at 19. But for several years, he was not out to even one fellow official.

Referees are “a brotherhood,” he says. “We support each other, solve problems together, spend a lot of time together.” Yet because he felt uncomfortable sharing his sexuality – he had not heard anything that led him to believe his colleagues would support him – he stayed in the soccer closet. That was difficult, professionally and personally. “When you don’t share anything about yourself, people think you’re standoffish,” he explains. “It’s not true, but that perception becomes reality.”

Gradually, Powell trusted a few fellow officials enough to come out. They were fine. But word spread. At a regional tournament – an important step in a soccer referee’s advancement – his assigned roommate refused to share a hotel room with Powell. Throughout the five-day event, Powell felt awkward. “There was animosity in the air,” he says.

He did not think he could discuss the situation with anyone. He did not want to create trouble, or pit one group of officials against another.

And, he notes, referees are “independent contractors.” They lack labor protection.

“It’s hard to advance as a referee when you are open about your sexuality,” Powell says. “It’s true that athletes now have an easier time. They’re young, and there’s a new mentality. Some of the coaches are young too.”

However, referees – particularly those in powerful positions – tend to be older and “conservative,” according to Powell. “The people who make important referee decisions in local and state organizations are, for the most part, over 60.”

If older officials do talk positively about sexuality, Powell says, they often add the caveat, “I just don’t think they should broadcast it.”

That is “very hurtful. It’s the same as saying, ‘Don’t open up and share anything about yourself. Just come to the field, then leave.’”

Referees working their way up the soccer ladder travel often. Yet, Powell says, “It’s taboo to mention that your boyfriend is staying back at the hotel. And you can’t encourage him to come to your game to support you.”

That isolation drove Powell’s first partner away. “I was too ashamed to bring him to events,” Powell says with regret. “I just wanted to keep myself out of the headlines. I didn’t want any ‘drama.’ So he never got to understand my love for soccer, and for refereeing.”

It’s a love that’s burrowed deep in Powell’s persona. His goal is to become a top-level referee.

Yet the older he gets, the more he realizes “I don’t want to shelter myself for the sake of getting ahead. I want to earn what I have on my own merits.”

It won’t be easy, but Powell is inching out of the professional closet.

Besides, he adds, “The number of world-class officials who are gay would surprise a lot of people.”




  • January 22, 2014 - 12:06pm

In August 2013 pro wrestler Darren Young casually came out of the closet at an LAX baggage claim to a reporter from TMZ. A TMZ reporter asked "Do you think a gay wrestler could be successful within the WWE?"
He responded absolutely look at me I'm a WW superstar and to be honest with you I'll tell you right now I'm gay and I'm happy, very happy. On Watch What Happens John Cena who has a gay brother speaks out about his support for fellow wrestler Darren Young.