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The Bay Area was a great place to be a sports fan in 1971. The San Francisco Giants, rock solid in the outfield with the likes of Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds, traded away George Foster, a seldom-used reserve outfielder to the Big Red Machine (which showed every sign of being a one-season wonder) as they battled their way to the National League West Championship by a single game over the hated Los Angeles Dodgers. Across the Bay, the Oakland Athletics were running away with the American League West for their first postseason appearance in 40 years behind the sensational Vida Blue, who became the first African American to win the AL Cy Young Award â€" and grabbing the MVP to boot. The San Francisco 49ers lost their final game at Kezar Stadium in the NFL playoffs before moving to Candlestick Park; and the San Francisco Warriors played their last regular season games in SF before permanently relocating to Oakland and becoming the Golden State Warriors.
Surrounded by such athletic excellence, the Bay Area Reporter showcased its sports sensibility in that inaugural year by scooping all the other news organizations with its coverage of ... the 1971 Great Tricycle race, a spoke-and-pedal pub crawl.
Okay, not exactly a stellar start, but then, even Willie Mays, the greatest baseball player of all time, went hitless his first dozen at-bats in the majors before going on the 22-season tear into immortality. Since its first tongue-in-cheek venture into the field of sports coverage, the B.A.R. has become one of the most influential voices of LGBT sports, even as sports became one of the most influential pillars of LGBT life.
Four decades ago, LGBT sports was the love that dared not report its box scores. Not a single celebrity athlete or former athlete was out of the closet. "Smear the Queer" was a staple of virtually every gym class. All of that changed in the 1970s.
"POLICE BEATEN!" the July 1974 front-page headline of the B.A.R. screamed when the local gay softball team beat the cops in their second ever head-to-head contest. Significantly, the series was created to improve the typically adversarial community relations with the police department, which as yet had not begun to actively recruit gay or lesbian officers. The subsequent growth of LGBT sports over the next 40 years is a testament to its potential to change the world.
In the 1970s, bowling and softball games emerged as places for gays and lesbians to meet and connect outside the bars. In 1974, Patricia Neal Warren published her novel The Frontrunner, about a same-sex relationship between a coach and an athlete, inspiring the foundation of queer-centric running clubs in San Francisco and across the globe. In 1975, former NFL player David Kopay became the first athlete from one of the country's major professional team sports to come out.
In the span of that decade, LGBT athletes learned we were not alone. Then, with key support from Bob Ross and the B.A.R. , the Gay Games were launched in 1982 and suddenly gay athletes discovered not only were they not alone, there were a hell of a lot of us.
Five years ago, Jim Provenzano, my inestimable predecessor, wrote an exhaustive column surveying the previous 35 years of B.A.R. sports coverage. The list of people who have written sports for the B.A.R. reads like a Who's Who of local LGBT sports leadership and activists: Jack "Irene" McGowan, Mark Brown, Lou Greene, Paul Bentley, Jack Burden, Tom Waddell, Allen White, Paul Lorch, Scott Treimel, Corinna Radigan, Rick Thoman, Hal Herkenhoff, Nancy Boutilier, Gene Dermody ... all at one time or another have wiped the sweat off long enough to take pen or keyboard in hand to inform, entertain, eulogize, exhort, or outrage fans and athletes alike.
The role of the B.A.R. in the local LGBT sports world has changed through the years. In earlier years, the newspaper served as a primary vehicle to enable clubs to publish results and schedules and recruit new members. As clubs became more reliant on their own communications networks, and some events became big budget items, B.A.R. sports became more focused on features, enterprise reporting, and issue advocacy. The unprecedented 10-year reign of Provenzano over B.A.R. sports earmarked from 1996 through 2006 brought the paper's coverage into the 21st century, marked by the impact and potential of the emerging Internet, and will be best remembered for his investigative reporting into the financial drain of the AIDSRides (replaced in 2002 by the AIDS/LifeCycle) and the financial sinkhole that was the Montreal Outgames.
"Coverage of LGBT sports helps to show the public at large (both gay and non-gay) that we can succeed as athletes and that we have goals and aspirations athletically as much as anyone else," said Thoman, San Francisco Track and Field co-founder. "It helps to break down stereotypes. It helps to promote LGBT sports organizations. It helps foster new relationships with non-gay sports organizations and sponsors.
"The more we can demonstrate that sports are as much a part of the LGBT community as art or politics or business, the better it is because it highlights how multi-dimensional the community is, and it helps combat some of the misconceptions people have about gays and lesbians being athletic. We have a long, proud athletic history and coverage of this history will help the LGBT community move forward to even greater success."
Shanti launches training sessions
Shanti will hold a half-marathon training program to prepare runners for the San Francisco Half Marathon on July 31. The 16-week program will give runners the tools they need to succeed by providing professional fundraising, training, and nutritional support every step of the way in the program to raise funds to support San Franciscans living with a life-threatening illness, such as HIV/AIDS and cancer. It will offer two group training sessions a week: a Tuesday night mid-week track or cross training workout and a Saturday morning long run.
The program begins with a group run Saturday, April 9 at the Ferry Building.
Participants of Shanti Compassionate Athletes Running to Enhance Services will register for the San Francisco Marathon race of their choice and be asked to meet a minimum fundraising goal of $1,300 during the season, contributing to an overall team fundraising goal. Once the fundraising minimum is met, Shanti will reimburse the registration fee.
Information and registration for the training program are available at www.shanti.org/pages/shanti-cares.html.
Next week: LGBT sports leaders will reflect on the past 40 years and the importance of sports in their lives.