By Alex Distefano
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By Anna Merlan
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When the question of quotas does arise, it's usually about straight players. Local gay softball, football, and hockey leagues don't limit their numbers. When Mike Yang, 41, of Inwood, found the Big Apple Softball League 10 years ago, he was just coming out. The league offered him a fun, safe place to meet other gay people and express his inner Mike Piazza. He yearns for the '70s, when the league was first and foremost for gay people: "Now we're basically saying, 'Hey, you kids who are just coming out—we don't have space for you, because we have so many straight people taking up spots.' "
The main target of his feelings last year was Team Super G, captained by Peter DeSouza. Of the 18 people on his team this season, 14 are straight—mostly co-workers and friends of co-workers. Formed in 2005, Super G has done very well, drawing attention to the preponderance of straight people on his team. "It's human nature to want to compete and have an advantage," Yang says. "So people started asking all their co-workers and college buddies to play, and straight people started saturating the teams. It started innocently in the beginning, but then they started taking over the teams."
DeSouza's straight players aren't exactly superstars; if he wanted to pick players simply based on skill, his team would look very different: "Some people thought I brought in straight players in order to win, and I find that offensive. Who's to say straight players are better than gay players? I've seen a lot of gay players in our league who are far superior to any of the people I've brought on."
Still, debate rages on whether it's a good thing that a gay softball league team is mostly straight. On the flip side, having straight players in the league reflects and aids the increasingly casual relationship between straight and gay men that we're seeing every day in New York City in our houses of worship, the workplace, and dance clubs. To keep straight men out of gay-sports leagues—when for so long we've complained that straight men were keeping gay people out of sports—is coming to seem like bad sportsmanship.
Yang recently proposed a motion at a Big Apple Softball League meeting to officially limit the number of straight players on any team. Of the 40 voting members present, 39 opposed it. The league's solution: They moved DeSouza's team, along with three other teams, into a more competitive division.
Mike Pinelli, 48, of Tudor City, a founder of the NYGFL and a softball-team captain, says he'd quit any league that put quotas on straight or gay people. "It never crossed my mind that anyone would even care that straight people were playing in a gay league," he says. As of this writing, Yang's team was leading his newly restructured division—with the aid of straight players.
Some gay-sports organizations and events do, however, place a limit on straights. The Gay Super Bowl, the national gay flag-football championship held every year (last October at East River Park), limits the number of het players to 20 percent of a team's roster. The annual Gay Softball World Series has a limit of two straight players on any team.
Jokes of forced sexual acts to prove your sexuality abound—with plenty of volunteers to vet the cute straight ones. Still, limits and restrictions on who can compete in sports competitions are not a new concept. The Maccabiah Games, for example, which are held every four years, limit participation to Jews and Israeli citizens.
Even if the exclusion of straight men in gay leagues may not be overt in New York City, there are some subtle signals that "straights are not welcome." Not a single straight man has ever been a finalist for the New York Gay Football League's MVP Award. A straight newcomer won the Rookie of the Season Award earlier this year over the protests of many gay members.
Alon Hacohen is saddened "that some people who have been excluded all their lives would immediately go to the place of exclusion. If you're going to have an MVP Award, it should be for the most valuable player on the field, whether they're gay or straight." Hacohen himself usually withholds his name from consideration for such an award.
In any event, the fact is that most—but by no means all—of the best players are gay. During the Gay Football League's seven seasons in existence, only one championship has been won by a straight quarterback (Alon Hacohen). And though straights are often accused of being overly aggressive and competitive, it's the gay men who advocate the "Winning is the only thing" philosophy.
"I think it's easy to say that a person's overly competitive because he's straight," Pinelli says. "People like Alon get fingers pointed at them, but they're no less aggressive than plenty of gay people in the league. It's a competitive environment, and that increases aggression and passion from everyone. We're not serving tea and cookies out here."
Gay players can feed into the drama-queen stereotype. Despite the coming- out of many top-level professional and college athletes, such as former NFL players Dave Kopay and Esera Tuaolo and former New York Giant Roy Simmons, the notion of the screaming hissy fit continues. But just by being there and being comfortable, straight players are fighting stereotypes—on both sides. "Straight people are going out and talking to their straight friends about their positive experience with gay people and how well they play sports," Pinelli says. "That's the biggest benefit of having them in the league."