Sportstory 3.5

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Wednesday March 29, 2006
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In perusing the Bay Area Reporter from its first issues, one can see the seeds of the sports community planted in the 1970s burst forth in the 1980s, expand through the 1990s, and, well, you can Google everything since then. From paste-ups to blog links, LGBT sports writing mirrored – and furthered – the growth of queer visibility.

Pasted up on little cardboard sheets (remember liner tape?), the B.A.R.'s early charm lay in its indulgent promotion of both publisher Bob Ross and the Imperial Court's bevy of queens. But even as early as the seventh issue, a uniquely gay sporting event made the cover, the 1971 Great Tricycle Race, which blended both camp and community spirit through a bike trek/pub crawl. A similar roller skating race, started in 1968 (!), celebrated its fifth anniversary in the June 27, 1973 B.A.R.

"PEACE AND GOODWILL" read the December 8, 1973 cover story about the first gays vs. cops softball team fundraiser and community-building sports event.

Jack "Irene" McGowan, who blended occasional drag and hearty decades-long softball coaching, was the spark behind the event. McGowan is also probably the world's first out gay sports writer. In addition to fully descriptive accounts of inning highlights, his opinions sometimes swayed into the invective, especially when he switched papers to write for now defunct Sentinel, and more so as "Sarah Sportscoop," a satirical gossip columnist in the Rip-Off Rag.

McGowan bowled, played center field for the Sutter Mill team in the first gay softball tournament, and managed the Twin Peaks team to the historic 1974 victory over Police 9-4 (see photo).

In a B.A.R. column from 1977, McGowan welcomes the then-five other out gay sports columnists who wrote for publications at the time. Like all his subsequent fellow sports writers, participation in sport went hand in hand with writing about it.

Softball coach and player Mark Brown also contributed scores and articles, as did Lou Greene, Paul Bentley, Jack Burden, and players in pool, bowling, and tennis (Les Balmain also published the short-lived Gay Sports monthly magazine from 1980-1982).

From the late 1970s to early 1980s, a larger format, more photos, and even a few workout columns from Los Angeles bodybuilder Rod Fuller were featured. Several gym ads began to reflect the desire for fitness, and to resemble the numerous full frontal porn stars featured in several sections.

It's a wonder any woman at the time ever read the paper, especially if their softball team photo was next to a quarter-page ad with a half-erect Gordon Grant in an ad for Locker Room "aroma for men."

The Gay Games broke through that and for a while the body electric wasn't just erotic. Mark Brown's articles included the first mention of the then-named Gay Olympics, which he helped create and organize. Many women writers and photographers captured the first two Games and more after that. Even as AIDS cut a swath through the city, the idea of health had been brought forth through the Games, and local leagues.

A year before the first Gay Games, Dr. Tom Waddell wrote a regular column about its development and formation up until opening ceremonies. In his first column, Waddell wrote, "It may come as a shock to the rest of the world that so many Gays and Lesbians are so involved in athletics, perhaps that's because they are so naive about the depth of homosexual character."

After 1982, sports coverage receded to smaller sports articles with results and tournament play by play. As the second Gay Games also brought San Francisco into the international spotlight, the paper stepped up its advance coverage, with four cover articles, starting with the shocking Olympics lawsuit to ban use of the name, followed by the celebrations in Kezar Stadium, and a rare six-page photo spread of the Games. Feature articles of note included those by Allen White, Paul Lorch, Scott Treimel, and Corinna Radigan.

After writing a moving remembrance after Waddell died in 1987, fellow track athlete (and co-founder of the San Francisco Track & Field Club) Rick Thoman contributed frequent articles on track, running, and marathons with the same efficiency that gained him so many medals in athletics.

The tradition of participatory journalism continued. Swimmer Hal Herkenhoff wrote about the Team Tsunami Swim Club. Writer and poet Nancy Boutilier, a coach and teacher, contributed articles, as did Roxxy Rosen, who gave women's soccer and workouts a wry perspective.

In 1996, when then-news editor Mike Salinas asked me if I wanted to write a new sports column, I immediately dubbed it Sports Complex, because I wanted to do more than report scores, but also explore the complex some people have about sports, especially gays in sports, and to encourage more people to participate. I'd also checked the URL domain name, and bought it.

Hundreds of teams already had Web sites, of course, and about a dozen U.S. papers had regular sports columnists. But as the Web became my tool – and I its – I found few writers, with the exception of Canada's Joe Clark – who discussed the roots of homophobia in athletics, as well as providing regular features about gay athletes.

In 2004, syndicating this column gave you, and a lot more readers, a more global perspective on our expanding community, as well as a clear look at controversies.

I've alternated this reporting – to the befuddlement of some – with sports humor and satires. Some of the more serious investigative journalism irritated those being investigated (where is Dan Pallotta these days, anyway?).

From the beginning, controversy and celebration brought gay sports more global media attention, including the recent two-year gestation of the pod-like other, the OutGames.

Some people don't care to be reminded that the OutGames was offered, refused, then appropriated, the traditions of this 35 years of history, and then expected this history to simply step aside.

OutGames thought the Gay Games should just stop this year.

You don't think that's true? I'm being "opinionated" now? Hey, I think after 10 years, I'm allowed.

And in the tradition of participatory sports journalism, here's your invitation. Through this summer's swirl of activity, take pictures, send a team photo, shoot a video, blog, podcast, and/or upload albums of photos from matches, games, tournaments. Add yourself to this his/hers sportstory.

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Upcoming events

BADR off and running

The Bay Area Distance Runners will host its annual half marathon on May 14, but until then, members attend some great out of town distance runs, and hold their own weekly runs in San Francisco. A scenic upcoming run is the Artichoke Half Marathon, Sunday, April 9 in the small town of Pescadero, 12 miles south of Half Moon Bay. The race is actually 13.5 miles and there is also a 10K. The course is very scenic, taking you along paved country roads, with gentle rolling hills and a beautiful redwood grove. It is a small race, with fewer than 50 runners, so it's easy to win a divisional medal. Everyone will get a T-shirt and an artichoke, and finishers medal. The race starts at 9 a.m., and BADR members will be carpooling down and going to brunch at Duarte's Tavern following the race. Anyone interested in joining the group can contact [email protected], and do visit

Run proud

Just a reminder that San Francisco FrontRunners is seeking sponsors for its Pride Run at its benefit party, Saturday, April 1 (no fooling) at the Noe Valley home of Yan Lui. For info, e-mail: [email protected] or visit

Beneficiaries for this year's Pride weekend run are the Eureka Valley Rec Center's teen program and the GLBT Historical Society, which houses a complete collection of LGBT Northern California periodicals, which aided my research for this column. The GLBT Historical Society Museum features the world's first gay sports exhibit: "Sporting Life: GLBT Athletics and Cultural Change From the 1960s to Today," curated by yours truly. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $4. Through 2006. Info: