Jock Talk: 2008: Kisses in the stands and a dive for the ages
by Roger Brigham
Perhaps in a year in which the nation embraced change while the state recoiled at acceptance it is only fitting that the year in queer sports was defined by confusion in Seattle over straights on the softball fields and lesbians in the baseball stands, in swimming by the slow recognition of the legitimacy of gay events, and in the media spotlight of the Beijing Games by NBC's inept omission of the life story of a young gay man who gave us an Olympic dive for the ages.
January: Death of a showman. The life of one of figure skating's most artistic and charismatic characters came to an untimely end when 1988 Olympian Christopher Bowman was found dead at the age of 40 by a friend in a cheap San Fernando Valley motel room. An autopsy showed the two-time national champion had a 0.12 blood alcohol level, an enlarged heart, and tested positive for cocaine, Valium, and marijuana. Tennis icon Martina Navratilova is named a health and fitness ambassador for the AARP. Hopefully she'll make out better with them than she did in her role as a spokeswoman for the first World Outgames, which listed her as a creditor when it filed for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the North American Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association decided not to hold a continental Outgames this year, fearing it would hurt the Asia-Pacific Outgames, which went off without a hitch and reported a surplus in Melbourne, enabling organizers to fund scholarships for future participants.
They said it: "He was an extraordinary talent who had wit, intelligence, and charm. It's interesting how you can have a love-hate relationship with somebody and love them, care about them and at the same time, despite the dark side of them that comes about for whatever reason. It was disgusting, and basically destroyed a very lovely human being."
– Skating coach Frank Carroll, on the death of Bowman.
February: A stink in Fresno. Disgust over the number of lawsuits that have challenged Fresno State University alleging sex discrimination in its athletics department, the Lambda Letters Project petitions the state Senate Women's Caucus to demand FSU President John Welty's resignation. A congressional committee had more pressing things on its mind, however, when it held televised hearings on such sensitive drug-testing topics as who is on the guest list for Jose Canseco's BBQs and what was the cause of that ugly pimple on Roger Clemens's butt. A year after being fined $1,000 and serving probation for his conviction on seven charges of attempted rape of his teammates on a bus ride, Jerome Hunt put together a 35-2 regular season record as a senior wrestling at West Central High School in South Dakota, then beat an 171-pound opponent 3-1 in the state finals to win his second high school championship. And Welty? At last report, still very much the head honcho in Fresno.
They said it: "It is outrageous that the university has lost so many very significant discrimination suits during the presidency of President Welty and yet nothing seems to be being done about it. Discrimination is wrong. Defending suits that result from it wastes taxpayer dollars. The ultimate victim of ongoing discriminatory practices against women and people of color in the CSU system is the credibility of the entire system."
– Boyce Hinman, chief lobbyist at Lambda Letters, on the FSU lawsuits.
March: You're out – not that there's anything wrong with that. The San Francisco Giants showed just how very, very SF they have become since moving here 50 years ago with their double-entendre slogan for this milestone season: "All Out All Season." Never before in the history of sports has an entire team been outed by its own front office. But try as they might, even the poor hitting Giants were unable to generate more than three outs in every inning. And for the first time ever, the registration for riders in the June AIDS/LifeCycle closed early after a record 2,500 people had signed up.
They said it: "I have no intention of committing suicide in Beijing."
– Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie, the 2004 Olympic marathon champion, on why he decided early on his asthma would force him to skip the 2008 Olympic marathon. The race was subsequently run by 21-year-old Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya – an infusion of hope for the violence-plagued country.
April: The sound of one-hand boycotting. After beating two No. 1-ranked teams, Stanford's dream season comes up one game short when the Cardinal women fall 64-48 to defending champion Tennessee in the NCAA women's basketball championship game in Tampa. But at least the fans got to see that. Olympic fans (and protesters) were cheated out of their moment in the spotlight when security concerns led San Francisco city officials to re-route the Olympic torch run, which was supposed to wind up among the signs, cheers, and jeers at Justin Herman Plaza.
They said it: "A homosexual cannot do the job of a footballer. I don't know if players are against having them in their team, but I definitely am. I never wanted to have a homosexual player and I still wouldn't sign one. I'm old school but I know the ambience of football and a gay wouldn't be able to survive within it. The football world is not designed for them, it's a special atmosphere, one in which you stand naked under the showers."
May: Well spoken. Wrestlers WithOut Borders holds its first LGBT freestyle world championship in Chicago, and a record 2,500 cyclists begin their annual trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the AIDS LifeCycle to raise $11.8 million for AIDS services in those two cities. Yours truly comes out of retirement for a day to win silver in Chicago and is one of 13 athletes named to the WWB Hall of Merit.
They said it: "I'm kind of cynical. But I think I was moved to tears several times today when I saw pictures of people's friends they had lost to AIDS. I have to admit it got to me."
– Brian Coppedge of Los Angeles, an HIV-positive, 45-year-old first time rider in the AIDS LifeCycle.
June: So, 'splain it to us. As badly as the Seattle Mariners are playing, some fans become more upset with what they see in the stands, causing an usher to eject two women after others complained they were kissing. There were no bets on who'd be kissing whom at the Bingham Cup in Dublin, but the odds-makers correctly tabbed Sydney Convicts to successfully defend their rugby world title. More than 150 world, national or meet records are bettered at the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics championships in Washington, D.C., but under new regulations the international governing body FINA does not initially recognize the records.
They said it: "I don't think it's right seeing women kissing in public. If I had my family there, I'd have to explain what's going on."
– Jim Ridneour, a 54-year-old taxi driver from Seattle.
July: Be sure you get your story heterosexual. Bruce McBarnette, 50, sets a U.S. age-group record of 1.9 meters in the high jump at the second annual Pride Track & Field meet in San Francisco, but you wouldn't find the results of that meet on the American Family Association Web site. That group, which filters out any use of the word "gay" and replaces it, is stymied when sprinter Tyson Gay wins the 100-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Ever vigil to safeguard the nation, the AFA reports to a startled world, "Homosexual qualified for his first Summer Games and served notice he's certainly someone to watch in Beijing." Pete Runyon, co-founder of the Southern California Wrestling Club, dies in Palm Springs at the age of 78. Keeping pace with Fresno State, Mesa College is sued by two former women's basketball coaches for Title IX violations and sex discrimination. The lawsuit had been expected ever since the two were terminated following a 2007 news story that mentioned they were a registered couple and had a picture of them with their children.
They said it: "'It means a lot to me," the 25-year-old Homosexual said."
– American Family Association, on Gay's victory.
August: And he's even cuter than Tyson Gay. The highest scoring dive in history in the final round secures an upset gold medal victory for Australian diver Matthew Mitcham and prevents a sweep by the heavily favored host Chinese. Incredibly, in its roughly 9,732 hours of biographical background features on Olympian standouts, NBC neglects to mention Mitcham is gay and that it's his partner he's hugging in the stands with his fans. Mitcham is one of 10 openly gay athletes at the Games but the only gay man. Collectively they earn seven medals in diving, soccer, softball, and handball. In Seattle, the San Francisco D2 men's softball team advances to the finals in the Gay Softball World Series but is kicked out by rules that restrict the number of straight players a team may have to two – rules that violate the spirit of anti-discrimination laws in California and Washington that LGBT sports events helped create.
They said it: "I want to thank absolutely everyone who helped – my partner Lachlan and my mom here to support me and watch me get gold, because it was so important to have those two people here with me. I didn't think I had a chance to get the gold and to actually get that was mind-blowing. I was crying thinking I had silver and to get gold, I was a blubbering mess."
– Mitcham, after winning the men's platform dive.
September: We're ready for our close-up, Mr. DeMille. The SF gay basketball team the Rockdogs gets its own miniseries on Logo television, a refreshing change of pace from gay-oriented programming that relies mostly on the humorous antics of white gay guys with a taste for fashion. Lending teeth to the lawsuit against Mesa College two months earlier, the U.S. Department of Education finds that the Southern California community college had indeed committed Title IX violations.
They said it: "We're trying to influence the guys who are not coming out. It will hopefully inspire a lot of gay youth."
– Rockdogs player James White, talking about the series Shirts & Skins.
October: Because then you'd have to let dogs and cats jump and bat, too. Ten female athletes sue organizers of the 2010 Winter Olympics over their decision not to allow women to compete in ski jumping in Vancouver, noting that Canadian law prohibits the government from using public funds for venues that discriminate. The North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association, meanwhile, denies an appeal by D2 over the team's disqualification from the Gay Softball World Series for having too many straight players. At the Federation of Gay Games meeting held in Cape Town, South Africa, four cities – Miami, Cleveland, Boston, and Washington, D.C. – emerge as finalists in the bidding for Games Games IX, to be held in 2014. In a conference call meeting, the rival Outgames announce that only one city, Antwerp, has bid to host Outgames 3 in 2013. The hosts for the events in 2009 (Copenhagen, Outgames 2) and 2010 (Cologne, Gay Games VIII) both say they want to have drug-testing and will not disqualify HIV-positive athletes taking medications normally banned under sports anti-doping rules, but neither organization is able to spell out how this first-ever task will be accomplished. A former Southern Methodist University women's basketball player sues the school, saying her scholarship was withdrawn because of her complaints that the coach repeatedly questioned and commented on the players' sex lives. Noted homophobe and longtime Dodger Tommy Lasorda is chosen to lead San Francisco's Italian Heritage Parade, sticking in the craw of Giants fans and the queer locals alike.
They said it: "I don't think we've encountered this question before. Would it be acceptable to the public mind for a private group to exclude some people because they were not 'sufficiently' African-American?"
– Marc Brenman, executive director of the Washington State Human Rights Commission, on the rule restricting Gay World Series teams to a maximum of two straight players and not making any allowance for transgender or bisexuals.
November: Two out of three athletes can't be wrong. As California prepares to eliminate marriage equality, former 49ers quarterback Steve Young and former Lakers guard Magic Johnson jump into the debate, urging the defeat of Prop 8, but the never quite fuzzy and loveable former Giant and current Dodger second baseman Jeff Kent throws his two cents down on the prevailing side. Rockdogs point guard Mike Survillion lands a spot on the preseason roster of the San Francisco Rumble semipro basketball team. Saying they never made the connection with San Francisco Pride day, club owners announce the San Francisco franchise in a new women's professional soccer league will be the Gold Pride.
They said it: "When we look at athletes, we don't ask about their sexual persuasion. We look at their athleticism. It is not about sexual persuasion. In basketball, it's about athletics. We're looking for the best semipro men's basketball team we can put on."
– Dee Minor, Rumble vice president of team operations, on Survillion.
December: But don't think about letting them try out for softball – or soccer. Half a year after the laps were swum, the international governing body for swimming reverses its earlier ruling and recognizes the world records set at the IGLA championships.
They said it: "The IGLA meet was just like any other swim meet I've been to, and a well-run swim meet at that. I am a straight male and was looking forward to the meet, and will look forward to future ones. If there are people who would think it's a problem that I would compete at the IGLA meet only means there are way too many of us who still judge others. I used to be someone who did that as well, but with age, hopefully, comes some wisdom. There should never be any borders in sport. It's the competition that brings people together."
– Glenn Mills, after learning that his age group records in the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke and the 200 individual medley would be officially recognized.
As we begin 2009, we enter with the hope that the country one day will allow the words "gay" and "marriage" to cohabitate peacefully and sports broadcasters will connect the word "gay" with the words "athletic excellence." In the meantime, as Tiny Tim would tell us, God bless us everyone.
Even those straight softball players. Go Tyson Homosexual!