By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Alon Hacohen had been playing football in adult leagues for years, but as guys hit their thirties, they had kids and moved to the 'burbs. By chance, an online search for a league that played exclusively in Manhattan led Hacohen to "New York Flag Football." A year later, he got a response—from the "New York Gay Flag Football League."
Working in the flower industry, Hacohen, who is 36 and in a committed relationship with a girlfriend, was always comfortable around gay men, but even so . . . "I was reticent—not because it was a gay league, but I was used to a high level of play," he recalls. "After the first pick-up game, there were guys who could really play, and I got excited."
Hacohen was the first straight player in the league's very first season in 2005. Now it has more than 200 members— including about a dozen straight guys who play "fag football" every season. The gay Big Apple Softball League fields some teams that are more than half straight. Estimates place the gay-bowling league at around 20 percent straight. In fact, every gay-sports league in the city probably has at least one straight player.
When Jeff Kagan founded the New York City Gay Hockey Association in 1999, there were only "one or two straight guys." Now, half of the entire league's membership is straight—a dynamic that Kagan (who has been at the forefront of fighting homophobia in the stands at New York Rangers games) welcomes.
One of those straight (and married) guys is Jim Davis, 33, a Chelsea resident who's been playing in the New York City Gay Hockey Association for several years. His wife, who played hockey at MIT, discovered the group, which welcomes both men and women to the ice. "I remember thinking it was a bit strange that my wife was playing with a gay team," he says. "It was just a new concept to me. I don't think I'd ever seen anything like that—gays playing sports."
Like many of the other straight jocks interviewed for this article, Davis had initially played with a straight team at Chelsea Piers. But he found straight teams overly competitive, not interested in developing players, and unfriendly. The Hot Shots of the NYCGHA, by contrast, were "so nice. It was such a different experience from playing with the straight team."
Jason Klatsky, 30, of the Upper East Side, discovered he could join a gay friend at the football league, and found himself returning year after year because of the camaraderie: "Over the past three seasons, I find it amazing that there hasn't been one person on any one of my teams that has made me feel like an outsider," he says. "Maybe I just get along with gay guys better."
His wife, Meredith, has also found a home in the league. Unlike straight leagues, where she was invisible to Jason's teammates, referees and fans literally embrace her and make her feel part of an extended family. "It sounds funny to say 'Gay guys are just nicer,' but I don't know another common denominator," Klatsky says.
Why would any straight man find his way into a gay-sports league? The straights in gay leagues find themselves continually answering that question. I'll bet you, the reader, are thinking: "These guys must be gay. Or at least curious."
Not Tal Hacohen, 29, who followed his brother Alon to the football league. He shrugs off straight friends who ask if he's a closet case or looking for some bi action on the side. True, in his first season, Tal won a league award for "Player Most People Would Like to Sleep With." But Tal's a ladies' man.
"When I first joined the NYGFL and learned of certain 'straight' players, I chuckled," says a player who goes by the name of Miss Beth Israel, 28, a charter member of flag football. "I must admit, it was that judgmental chuckle only reserved for those late-night Internet hookups with those 'straight' or 'bi- curious' guys looking for 'oral service only with no reciprocation.' " Miss Beth has since learned to take straight players at their word—although she takes extra pride in sacking a straight quarterback: "Reparations are a bitch," she laughs.
Players' gaydar goes off "because someone's really good-looking or really friendly with everyone," Kagan says. "But I think you get that wherever you are. I think people project their desires."
Ironically, one of the big draws for straight men is that gay-sports leagues generally don't have rules on how many women must be on a team or how many have to be playing at any given time. ZogSports' eight-on-eight touch-football league mandates that three women must be on the field at all times, and that a team can't run three consecutive offensive plays to a man. Likewise, its 10-player softball league requires four women on the field at all times, and no more than three men are permitted to bat in a row. While there are some women in the gay leagues, there aren't any such restrictions. That's appealing to some hyper-competitive straight guys.