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Gays in Sports: History and Context in a New Book

By RealJock Staff

Are we sports-loving gay people making progress or what? Well, yes and no. While the world of sports isn't nearly as homophobic as it once was, gays and lesbians still have a long way to go before we can expect to see any out gay wide receivers on the New York Giants. That's just one lesson you can take away from "The Outsports Revolution: Truth and Myth in the World of Gay Sports" (Alyson Books, July 2007), by Outsports.com founders Jim Buzinski and Cyd Zeigler, Jr. The authors, undoubtedly two of the world's most knowledgeable reporters covering every whiff of the word "gay" in sports and athletics, present a thorough and well-researched look at LGBT people practicing, playing, and watching sports from manly tackles—football—to sequins and spins—figure skating.

Thorough they are—over 300 pages of essays to be exact, complete with interesting historical overviews and interviews, "flashback" features taken from some of the better articles on the Outsports web site, plus plenty of quality sports and beefcake photos (unfortunately all in black and white). From a moving opening from (straight) Daily News sports reporter Michael O'Keefe to a historical look at professional athletes who have come out (and some who never did...), the authors manage to cram coverage of just about every angle of the sports world into one easy-to-read book. The result? Entertaining, informative, and just a little bit political (we should all be used to this by now; politicians have politicized every other aspect of gay and lesbian lives, so why not our participation in sports?).

Buzinski and Zeigler have been writing about sports on the Outsports web site since 1999, back when decent gay sites were few and far between and coverage of gays in sports was mostly limited to the Gay Games and the occasional—and often negatively received—coming out stories. Since then, with key pro players such as Billy Bean, Esera Tuaolo, and John Amaechi saying "We're here! (We're retired!) We're queer!," media outlets from ESPN to the New York Times have increasingly taken to covering gay people in sports—and with the exception of a few one-note right wingers, doing a pretty good job of it. Because Buzinski and Zeigler have spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with straight reporters and educating them about gay people in sports, they deserve a heaping plate of credit for helping ensure these outlets (again, for the most part) don't write "Ew! Gays in the locker room!" but instead present a balanced look at the issue.

"Outsports Revolution" jumps from topic to topic, reading more like a series of stand-alone essays than a cohesive narrative. Of those essays, which run the gamut from locker room fears and fantasies to transgendered participation in the Olympics, the book really shines in its coverage of the intersection of gay people and professional sports. Who else but Buzinski and Zeigler could provide such detailed accounts of the "good" guys in the sports world who publicly embrace gay people versus the "bad " Hall-of-Shamers who like to go out of their way to utter homophobic slurs in public? We particularly liked the piece on non-apologies—public figures who say they're sorry but through careful wording manage to imply they're not sorry at all. Ah, spin!

Another must-read highlight for any gay sports buff? The well-documented history of gay athletes from the earliest—little known 1920s tennis star Bill Tilden—to the latest—former NBA player John Amaechi, who came out earlier this year to massive media fanfare.

Being suckers for personal narratives, here at RealJock.com we most enjoyed the chapter "The Wave of Out Young Jocks," which covers the new generation of young competitive athletes who have come out or are coming out to their high school or college teams. Read the first-person coming-out accounts of cross-country skiers Ryan Quinn and tennis player Matt Coin, for example, and you'll foresee a time when gay and lesbian athletes will be welcomed as part of their sports community without fear of coming out. But of course it's not all team hugs and happy tears; Zeigler's 2002 interview with Dwight Slater, who quit Stanford University's Division 1 football team after his freshman year because of the poor way his team and coaches handled his announcement he was gay, shows that growing pockets of acceptance in sports may still be overshadowed by openly expressed homophobia in the big three: baseball, basketball, and football.

As with most things in life, thorough can occasionally veer into unnecessary, and this is the case with a few of the "lighter" chapters of "Outsports Revolution," such as seemingly out-of-the-blue essays suggesting good sports movies to watch (many of which have no gay themes to speak of) and instructions on how to throw a good Super Bowl party. These sections are frankly a bit silly and take away from the much more compelling content of the other chapters. But this quibble aside—and who knows, you may actually enjoy reading about the best kind of cheesy blow-up centerpiece to buy for your Super Bowl party—"Outsports Revolution" is overall a powerful and well-researched read covering an important but often poorly reported topic: gay people and sports.

"Outsports Revolution" Quick Links
Buy the "Outsports Revolution"
Visit Outsports.com