Playing The Field - Gay Sports Fans Get Real
It’s an age-old stereotype: gays and sports don’t mix. While I haven’t participated in a proper sports league in well over a decade, my "inner bro" has manifested as an avid football fan, which confuses those who thought they knew me well.
My current smitten state started around the same time as the 2011 NFL season. Early on in the relationship, many Sunday afternoons were spent with me at one end of the couch hooting and hollering over first downs and fumbles, while my boyfriend spent nearly all four quarters playing Angry Birds.
As the weeks passed and 49ers Fever began to sweep the city, I began to notice a difference in this game-watching routine we had developed. My beloved started to ask penetrating questions such as, "What team is that in blue?" This was followed by more complex and keen queries: "Why did they get two points for that?" "What is the deal with downs and yardage?" This newfound interest on his part, combined with my love of the sport (and the fact that last year I attended a Vegan Super Bowl Party) led us to host our own Super Bowl gathering this year, and lo and behold, a new, fully-fledged gay sports fan emerged!
A brief visit to Trigger (2344 Market St.) in the Castro on a Saturday afternoon during the 49ers playoff game showed both sides of the coin. Some gays use playoff fever as another excuse to party, while lurking in the corner, their eyes glued to the flat-screen, you may find true sports fans.
At Trigger’s playoff party, I heard so many basic game-related questions that it brought to mind a business opportunity. Instead of closed captioning, these games need some Queer Captioning to pop up on the screen and break down the plays in easy-to-understand terms!
Case in point: one friend said to me "He got a 15-yard penalty on a third down for unsportsmanlike conduct? What does that even mean?" If Queer Captioning existed, it could just translate: "One of the hot dudes wearing the pretty colors is being a little bitch."
While this football season has already come to its exciting conclusion, the spring months bring a new field of sporting events for both diehard fans and those who want an excuse to create new drinking games.
Greg Smith, a 28-year-old teacher who recently moved to San Francisco from Sacramento, is excited about March Madness (Queer captioning: March Madness is a college basketball tournament.).
An avid basketball fan, Smith is quickly learning the ins and outs of local gay bars, and how each one feels about tuning its television to sports. Greg takes his basketball fandom seriously, and talks about the difficulties of trying to view a game.
"Even when games are nationally televised, it can be a hassle to get the bartender to put something on," said Smith. "Some don’t know how to split the TVs between different games; a must for a sports bar," says Smith.
Also, sports aren’t always a priority. For instance, don’t go to The Mix (4086 18th St.) to watch a basketball game that tips off at 4pm because, as Smith informed me, "they always watch Ellen at four o’clock." Once he finally persuaded the bartender, the game was relegated to two TVs without sound and inferior pictures.
But Smith is a basketball fan before anything else, including the NBA and WNBA, along with college basketball. When pressed about what or which team draws him most to the sport, he says, "I don’t really have a team. I just love excellence."
He continues, "I must admit, I’m occasionally fascinated with futility as well. For instance, I’ve been tracking the Charlotte Bobcats’ current losing streak, which threatens to extend to beyond a full third of the lockout-shortened season.
Smith says he runs and shoot hoops on occasion, and soon he intends to start attending open gyms and conditioning in anticipation of joining the gay basketball league.
Yes, the Gay Basketball League does exist, as well as many other gay sports teams and leagues such as softball, rugby, rowing, flag football, wrestling and soccer. The San Francisco Spikes Soccer Club was founded in 1982 after emerging from the first Gay Games (with a different name at the time), and has grown to four teams, two competitive and two recreational.
Miles Harrigan has been playing soccer with the SF Spikes since 2009, and tells me that the organization currently has more than 100 active players at all skill levels, ranging from guys who are completely new to soccer to guys who have played at the intercollegiate level. While mostly gay, there are a few straight guys in the club as well.
Harrigan, who works at a tech startup by day, has been kicking around the soccer field in one way or another for most of his life.
"I’ve been playing soccer since my mom coached me and my team in ’tiny tots’ in Southern California," he says. "Soccer was a big part of my life growing up, with weekday practices, weekend games and tournaments around the state." In his youth, Harrigan went to a number of World Cup games in Los Angeles in 1994, and still watches the World Cup pretty religiously. His interest in soccer included playing during a month-long visit to Ethiopia, where the sport transcended language barriers.
Upon moving to San Francisco, Harrigan joined the Spikes. Since then, it’s become a team of friends and companions with whom he not only plays and trains, but also helps plan fundraisers, camping trips, and weekends away. The Spikes even made a video for the It Gets Better campaign to help provide hope to LGBT teens around the world.
Harrigan’s experience in the Spikes proves that sports go beyond highly paid professional athletes and rowdy straight men at a gritty sports bar drunkenly high-fiving each other after every play.
"One of the coolest things for me to see are the guys who have recently come out, and haven’t really made any gay friendships in that time," observes Harrigan. "They might feel a bit lost if they go out, and may feel a bit alienated from the gay community. Soon after they start with the Spikes, you see them forming bonds with their teammates." He notes that, "They learn that there’s so many different ways to ’be gay’, as strange as that may sound, and they learn it from playing with this group of guys!"
The SF Spikes regularly hold fundraisers, including running beverage booths at Pride and Folsom Street Fair. Their next event is on March 24 at the Powerhouse (1347 Folsom St.). For info on The Spikes, visit www.sfspikes.com
With summer ahead, there is ample opportunity for you to channel your "inner bro" and take in this sports season, either on the field or on a bar stool, beer in hand. If all else fails, you can be like most of my friends who come over to watch sports and just pretend to pay attention to the game, childishly giggling every time the commentator says the word "balls."