Out athletes discuss life as a gay footballer

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American football has long been considered one of the manliest of activities.

While baseball is America’s national pastime, it is football which has captivated audiences for nearly 150 years and become the most popular of American sports.

Since it’s inception, surprisingly, only a few athletes have come out publicly as gay players.

However, while openly gay football players are few and far between, they have enlightened and influenced the way that people perceive gay athletes.

This month, two of those athletes, David Kopay and Esera Tuaolo will join out lesbian Jackie Lepow, who works with the New York Giants, and CBS sports columnist Mike Freeman in a public forum entitled the “Closet Doors of the NFL”, which will discuss what it is like to be gay in the macho world of American football.

The modern game of football gets its roots from the popular sport of rugby, which was developed in England.

The simple concept of carrying a ball across goal lines was developed at the college level in 1869, and professional football followed with the establishment of the National Football League in 1920.

As the gay community became more sports minded, the Gay Games were developed in 1982 and became a successful multi-sport venue for gay athletes to compete and celebrate diversity with the best rivals in the world.

In 1994, over 11,000 athletes descended upon New York for gay Games IV and for the first time football was included in the schedule of events.

The event was so successful that teams across the United States quickly began to form and a new breed of athletes began to take to the forefront in changing the perception of gay people in sports and the community as a whole.

In 2002, Outsports.com founders and football enthusiast Jim Buzinski and Cyd Zeigler helped organise the first ever Gay Superbowl held in Los Angeles, California.

While very few teams actually participated in the inaugural year, the word was spreading that there was a place where gay athletes could thrive and compete in football.

The following year, the competition doubled in size when the event came to San Francisco. Each year the event continued to grow and what started with only three teams grew to 16 by the time it reached Dallas in 2006.

This year the event is coming for the first time to New York City.

In honour of the occasion, the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the New York Gay Football League, and the popular Gym gay sports bar in Manhattan have organised the first public forum about the topic of gay players in the NFL.

“‘The Closet Doors of the NFL’ will shed light on the grim realities gay athletes face when trying to play professional sports,” GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano said about the event in a press statement.

“By giving voice to the struggle against anti-gay prejudice, we bring visibility to an important cultural change happening in the world of American sports.”

The forum, which will be moderated by gay sports pioneer Steve Buzinski, will take place on October 4th, the day prior to the 2007 Gay Super Bowl kick off, at the Time Warner Centre.

According to a press release about the event, participants will talk candidly about the role the LGBT community plays in the NFL, the difficulties of being openly gay as a player and employee, and the role media play in addressing homophobia in football and sometimes perpetuating anti-gay sentiment.

Former NFL running back David Kopay will be on the panel to discuss his experiences of being a gay man competing in the sport during the 60’s and 70’s.

Kopay, who played for the Redskins, and the 49’s among other teams during his 8-year tenure in the NFL, was one of the first professional athletes to come out of the closet when he released his autobiography in 1975.

The LGBT icon bravely told his story and the rest of the world took notice of his contributions and talent.

He participated in the Gay Games, and most recently donated $1m dollars to the University of Washington his college alma mater to help further develop their Q Centre which provides counseling, guidance and a place for entertainment and recreation for gay and lesbian students.

Former defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo, who became only the third NFL player to come out publicly when he told his story on a 2002 addition of MTV’s Real Sports, will join Kopay.

Since that time, Tuaolo has become a positive role model and leader in the gay community funding several different charities and using his name to help promote a positive image of the gay community.

Their stories will be enhanced by those of Jackie Lepow and Mike Freeman, who will shed many insights on the current state of the league and its players.

In addition to his work at CBS Sportsline, Freeman wrote the book Bloody Sundays: Inside the Dazzling, Rough-and-Tumble World of the NFL, in which a closeted player claims that there are over 100 gay or bisexual players in the league.

‘The Closet Doors of the NFL’ is the first event for GLAAD’s newest programme, Sports Media, directed by Ted Rybka.

The Sports Media desk was created to ensure that the stories of LGBT athletes, coaches and sports reporters are included in media as a way to combat anti-gay prejudice in American sports culture.

The following day, influential gay politician, NYC city council speaker Christine Quinn, will welcome athletes to Gay Superbowl 7.

The event is sure to be the biggest and best so far, and the addition of the public forum will hopefully raise awareness and generate positive momentum for the gay sports revolution.

Dylan Vox © 2007 GaySports.com; All Rights Reserved.