Sports

THE CONTRACTIONS FINALLY STOP

If nothing else, maybe the All-Star Game fiasco taught Bud Selig to appreciate a hard-fought draw. Last week's labor deal was, as always, a compromise in which the baseball players mostly got to keep the status quo—the difference being that with bankers breathing down their necks this time, the owners didn't wipe out half a season before cutting a deal.

On the field, ramifications of the new collective-bargaining agreement should be minimal. Most significantly, contraction is dead, although MLB must now decide what to do with its property in Montreal, given that D.C. is still years away from approving a new stadium. At the very least, reports of the Expos' impending demise from some corners appear to have been premature. On the economic front, increased revenue sharing might make a few small-market owners richer, but it won't do much to encourage them to spend their new cash to improve their clubs—though as a fringe benefit, by reducing the amount of local revenue teams can keep, it might quiet somewhat the clamor for revenue-producing new stadiums.

With the Rangers likely to dump as much expensive dead weight as possible this off-season, the scaled-back luxury tax will mostly affect the Yankees, with George Steinbrenner having to cough up a few million more next season. If the Boss doesn't like it, he still has superlawyer David Boies in his back pocket, waiting to file suit against baseball for depriving the Yankee owner of his God-given millions.

Otherwise, the one guy not happy about Friday's deadline deal was a man spotted at last Thursday's Liberty playoff game, decked out head to toe in Met regalia. "I hope they strike!" he announced to anyone within earshot. "I've got all these Mets tickets left, and I want a refund!" —Neil deMause


BLOOD, SWEAT, AND QUEERS

On a lonely field at the edge of a similarly lonely island, the 30 men representing New York's only gay rugby team are put through their paces. The parched athletic field is located where Randalls Island meets Wards Island, in between the rubble of demolished Downing Stadium and the mental hospital from which Wards Island got its name. When it's hot, the smell from a nearby sewage plant fills the air.

As sports-radio enthusiasts and others hunt for homosexuals in pro sports, the Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club (www.gothamrfc.org) celebrates its orientation. Leading the charge is coach Scott Glaessgen and providing the spiritual boost is Mark Bingham, a rugger who lost his life fighting terrorists on Flight 93.

Glaessgen, a 32-year-old paramedic, has his work cut out for him. His T-shirt fittingly says, "Rugby 101." "My goal is to win a match," he says to his men, an estimated 80 percent of whom have never played rugby before, as the first practice begins during the recent record heat. Several guys wear department-store rugby shirts, the telltale sign of a novice rugger. It's a motley bunch: There's a former Franciscan friar, a guy from Iceland, and a former Colorado State running back.

September 14 will be the first league match for Gotham in Division III of the Metropolitan New York Rugby Union. Says a rival coach, "Their biggest challenge will not be discrimination, but facing teams that have played together week-in and week-out for years. In rugby, that kind of togetherness is invaluable. I can see the Knights losing by 30 to 40 points, with a 100-point loss a possibility."

Luckily, Gotham won't have to worry about the 30 guys, some of them NFL-big, who are training on a less remote section of Randalls. They're from the New York Rugby Club, which has been around for 73 years, and they're in Division I. Gotham will have its hands full in the bottom division, but at least the new ruggers seem to have a good attitude—and the memory of Mark Bingham to motivate them.

In rugby terms, Bingham was a "stud"—a tough, skilled player who won a national title at Berkeley. A cornerstone of the gay San Francisco Fog team until his death on 9-11, Bingham split time between coasts and pushed his friend Glaessgen to start a New York team. "At first, it was a lot of talk and a lot of e-mails," recalls Glaessgen. "When Mark died, we felt starting up the club was the proper way to pay tribute to him."

Another form of tribute is the Bingham Cup, for the winner of an all-gay rugby tournament in San Francisco each spring. Glaessgen knows of 14 gay rugby teams in the world, half of them in the U.S. If baseball players won't come out, why are ruggers so unabashed? "Rugby's an outsider sport to begin with," explains Glaessgen, who says he's gotten nothing but support from league officials and other teams. "Most rugby players feel that, if you're willing to get on the field and take a beating, it doesn't matter who you are."

Club president Toby Butterfield, an Englishman, says rugby is a logical avocation for gay people. "It's a great sport for getting aggressions out," he says.

The sun goes down and the exhausted players regroup for burgers and beers at Peter McManus's in Chelsea. Known in rugby as "the third half," the barroom revelry features barbs that flow as freely as the beer. Rugby is, after all, a hooligan's game played by gentlemen, according to tradition. And tradition never stated that the gentlemen had to be straight.—Michael Malone

 
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