Homophobia is Tackled at Gay Superbowl
To raise awareness about homophobia in sports and the importance of gay alternative leagues, 275 gay athletes will compete for the National Gay Flag Football Championship at East River Park this weekend.
“The purpose of the event is getting together a group of guys who like football and unifying them under the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] community,” the championship’s marketing director Derek Reyes, 38, says. “But it’s also about raising awareness that there are athletes who are gay but not comfortable coming out.”
Gay Superbowl VII is the tournament’s first appearance in the city. It is hosted by the New York Gay Football League, home of the New York Warriors, the defending national champions. Sixteen teams from a dozen cities nationwide participate in the competition which kicks off at 9:30 a.m. on Friday.
The event includes a debate about homophobia in sports with gay former NFL players Esera Tualo and Dave Kopay on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Time Warner Center. A portion of the weekend’s proceeds will go to PFLAG’s (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays) Esera Tuaolo Scholarship for Athletic Achievement and the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for homeless gay teens in New York City.
The New York Gay Football League was founded three years ago and has become a major venue for the city’s gay football players. More than 200 gay and transgender athletes have joined the 14 teams. Thirty to 50 more are on waiting lists for every spring and fall season.
“The league does not pigeon hole people into divisions based on ability. On every team we have an equal balance of top, middle and beginner players,” the league’s marketing director Stephen Vellecca, 39, says.
But there is more to the league’s appeal, Molly Lennox, an active player and the league’s communications director, believes. The transgender woman says it offers homosexuals an environment where they can comfortably practice their sport.
“The gay community and sports didn’t always mix very well. Many never played before because they were intimidated to join teams,” the 43-year-old East Villager says.
“Traditionally, there aren’t many gays playing football,” Rich Smith, 35, agrees. The homosexual tournament referee played football in high school, but says many gays during his adolescent years didn’t because of their sexual orientation.
“I have learned from gay football that the younger kids don’t have as many stigma attached to them. It seems a lot of people have more confidence than ten years ago,” Smith says.
This improvement is an accomplishment of gay alternative leagues, Reyes believes. He says he knows athletes who never played football until the leagues opened. Others have played in high school or college but never felt comfortable because of their homosexuality, Reyes says.
“The problem of team sports is they don’t allow gay athletes to come out,” Reyes says. “Athletes are interested in leagues where there’s certain openness and camaraderie.” He believes alternative gay leagues offer this environment.
Gay athletic leagues originated in the 1970s, says Cyd Zeigler, 34, the Superbowl’s tournament director and co-founder of the gay sports site Outsports.com. The breakthrough of gay sports is widely credited to Dr. Tom Waddell, Zeigler says. In 1982, Waddell founded the Gay Olympics, today known as the Gay Games. They take place every four years, with their highest attendance of 14,700 athletes in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1998.
Today countless gay athletic leagues exist. On Sep. 29, the Argentineans of Los Dogos S.N. won the gay soccer world cup in Buenos Aires. Other gay competitions include the annual Coors Hockey Cup, the Big Jump volleyball tournament and the Gay Superbowl which Zeigler organized in 2000.
Zeigler says these events are necessary. He says, “The image of gay men often is that they are addicted to drugs, sex and skimpy clothes. Gay sports leagues offer an alternative to that image.”