It wasn’t even June yet, and athletes already had a jump on celebrating Gay Pride Month. In mid May British Sports Minister Tony Banks called on gay soccer players to come out of the closet to help defeat homophobia in sports. We don’t have a sports minister so it’s hard to predict how such an appeal would fare in the U.S. But just remember what happened to a surgeon general who mentioned masturbation, and you can make a fair guess that government urgings for queer jock visibility would go over about as well as a union in a Nike factory. Banks was moved to urge gay players to declare themselves by the relentless taunting of a Chelsea footballer, Graeme Le Saux, an avowed heterosexual who has long been fighting rumors that he’s gay. He has been hooted at by fans, abused by opponents, and even attacked by one of his own teammates. Then, in a March match against Liverpool, opponent
Robbie Fowler tossed a few fag-baiting epithets at Le Saux, who responded with a vicious elbow to Fowler’s head. Fowler was banned from two matches, Le Saux was banned from one and fined £5000 (about $8000), and Banks took to the airwaves. He told the BBC, “If there were one or two footballers, whose names are well-known, as football stars or sports heroes, if they were in a position to declare their sexuality, then I think that we could start dealing with it.”
As for American football’s closets, they are probably even harder to crack. NFL mega-agent Leigh Steinberg has indicated that it’s easier to win endorsement deals for an athlete who has committed a felony than for one who has committed fellatio. Still, a door did get blown open last month by a little sentence in the New York Liberty’s media guide: General Manager Carol Blazejowski’s bio ended by noting that she lives with her partner, Joyce, and their two kids. The L-word wasn’t invoked and the hoops Hall of Famer didn’t want to comment further to the press, but with that statement Blaze became the first exec of a pro sports team to say out loud and proud that she is gay. If only we had a sports minister to back her up.
The Fighting Irish
The NYPD’s “Fightin’ Finest” boxing club recovered nicely from a staggering blow at the hands of a couple of local congressmen last weekend, holding a controversial fight exhibition that the pols had previously TKO’d. The event, originally scheduled for March at the Jacob Javits Center, pitted NY cops against a team of Irish Republic and Northern Irish police, and finally took place on Saturday . . . in Belfast. Results of the fight card were not available at Jockbeat’s early deadline, but organizers went the distance to make it happen.
The state-run convention center had canceled after word got out that the Irish team included members of Northern Ireland’s Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), which is known for persecuting Catholics in the disputed provinces. Fightin’ Finest coach Liam Packtor first got wind that the fix was in when Larry Downes, the U.S. president of the Friends of Sinn Fein, told him that his group would oppose the event with all its might as long as the RUC participated. Several powerful Irish Catholic groups followed suit, including the NYPD Emerald Society and Noraid, which called on the mayor and police commissioner to block the event. Then congressmen Joseph Crowley of Queens and Peter King of Nassau County stepped into the ring, and came out against the fight. Crowley and King cochair a congressional committee on Irish affairs, and Noraid, which funds the Irish Republican Army, has an office in King’s district.
Two weeks before the event, scheduled for March 19, Javits Center administrators informed Packtor they were canceling because the auto show had to set up earlier than expected. But Crowley’s and King’s offices readily take credit for scotching the fight. Packtor turned to the New York Armory, but an armory union rep told him, “You can’t have [the RUC] come in here. Any venue you get, they will take it from you.”
Since the Irish policemen had already booked their flight, the two teams held a secret exhibition at Yonkers Raceway. The event lost money, since no tickets were sold, and, Packtor says, “I had to grease a lot of palms to get the racetrack on such short notice.” The exhibition was also delayed over an hour as an NYPD bomb squad investigated anonymous bomb threats. “There were no bomb threats when we were in Belfast,” says Packtor of last year’s exhibition. “And we fought at the Europa Hotel, which holds the world record for the most bombings. It was bombed 27 times.”
“I was a lesbian way before I was a fighter,” says Gina “Boom Boom” Guidi, flashing her irresistible grin. Her fascinating story— from working-class roots to struggles with addiction to a redemptive quest for the junior middleweight title— is documented in Red Rain, showing this weekend at the NY Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (254-8504). Tenderly cradling a rabbit in her massive arms, pounding an opponent and then suggesting they keep in touch, weeping in frustration and rage after a cruel homophobic act, Guidi emerges as an outrageous, compelling, and humane representative of a sometimes inhuman sport.
contributors: Alisa Solomon, Michael Eskenazi, Joanna Cagan sports intern: Joshua D. Gaynor sports editor: Miles D. Seligman