Giving Thanks for Gay Sports Stuff(ing)

It seems like just yesterday we were watching the Olympics in Beijing. The day before, Barack and Hillary were duking it out for the Democratic nomination. A few hours earlier, it was Christmas.

2008 is almost in the history books. Thanksgiving signals the beginning of the end of the year; it’s also a good time to look back. As we tuck into our turkey and stuffing—how gay does that sound?—let’s give thanks for the good GLBT sports news of the past year. Of course, let’s also look back at the bad. Plenty of work remains to be done.

We’ll start with the Ohio Mayhem. Despite losing six of their first seven games (plus three players to season-ending injuries), the Columbus-area coed team won this year’s Chiller Adult Hockey League championship 4-0, in front of an overflow crowd in Dublin, Ohio. What’s notable about the win is that no one in greater Dublin gave a flying puck that the Mayhem is a team of gay men, lesbians, and a few straight friends. All they cared about was watching a good game. That’s the equality gay athletes have dreamed of for years. And the fact that it came in hockey—one of the planet’s most traditionally antigay sports—makes it all the sweeter, honey.

Back in the early 1970s, Jackie Walker was an All-American linebacker at the University of Tennessee. He was the first black Southeastern Conference football player to earn that honor, and the first to captain an SEC team. But he was also gay—something he did not hide after graduation—so perhaps that is why he did not receive the recognition he was due. In 2002, as he was dying of AIDS, his brother vowed to get him inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame.

It did not happen when he was alive, and it still had not happened five years after his death. But this past summer, he finally made it into the Hall. Was the long delay just an oversight? Was it homophobia? Racism? We’ll never know. But Jackie Walker is now in the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. And while that may not the biggest honor around, it’s one more sign that gay people are, indeed, everywhere.

Speaking of the gridiron, the San Francisco 49ers occupy a unique position. A football team with a powerful legacy, they represent a city with an even more storied reputation as a gay mecca. The club recognizes its commitment to all San Franciscans, and its inclusive approach was recognized this summer at the Commercial Closet Association’s Images in Advertising Awards night. The Niners were honored for a print ad they bought in GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) program books around the country. Featuring a black-and-white photo of the team’s football helmets, it noted that the 49ers were “proud supporters of the 18th Annual GLAAD Media Awards.” The team also helps sponsor San Francisco’s Pride parade and GLBT Center. For over 10 years, the team has offered benefits to same-sex domestic partners of employees. No player has yet requested those benefits—they’re aimed more at front-office personnel—but that doesn’t mean no one ever will. In San Francisco, gay fans have more reasons to root for the 49ers than the mere fact that they’re jacked guys in tight pants.

Nike, meanwhile, made advertising headlines of its own. The company known for “just doing it” rolled out a campaign for its new Hyperdunk shoe that showed basketball players dunking over opponents. Pretty, um, straightforward, until customers pointed out that nearly every photo showed the dunker’s crotch rubbing against the dunkee’s face. Captions include tag lines like “Isn’t That Cute” and “That Ain’t Right.” Some people saw the words as homophobic—what, they wondered, is wrong with a crotch shot? Others read them as ironic. Nike, of course, was not talking. However, for $3,000—the top retail price of the Hyperdunk shoe—perhaps the company’s intended market was upscale consumers looking to make a fashion statement. In other words, gay guys.

Finally, a look back at Beijing. Who can forget the two proudest gay moments, both courtesy of Australian platform diver Matthew Mitcham. First he set a 10-meter Olympic scoring record, beating heavily favored Chinese diver Luxin Zhou. Then, after the medal ceremony, Mitcham jumped over a few empty seats, climbed a wall, stepped on a barricade, kissed his mother—and, with the cameras rolling, smooched his boyfriend, Lachlan, too.
Happy Thanksgiving!
Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, gay activist, and author of the “Jocks” series of books on gay male athletes. Visit his website at He can be reached care of this publication or at [email protected].

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