The first weekend of October 2006 was a big one in Dallas. Texas and Oklahoma partisans gathered for the annual Red River Rivalry at the Cotton Bowl against the traditional backdrop of Big Tex and the Texas State Fair.
Armchair quarterbacks also had another, less- publicized football extravaganza in the Metroplex that weekend. Gay Bowl VI brought together 14 teams from around the country for the ultimate celebration of GLBT-friendly flag football.
Jered Becker, 43, helped to organize that event and last weekend he was at Leon Valley’s Raymond Rimkus Park, whipping six game-but-raw volunteers into shape at the first practice for the San Antonio Stallions.
If everything goes according to plan, the Stallions will develop over the next year, honing their skills against various local flag-football teams, and make their bid in 2009 to join the seven-on-seven, national gay league and compete at Gay Bowl IX.
Football has always been a fascinating laboratory for this country’s sexual attitudes. On the one hand, it’s seen as the last bastion of hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners, old-school masculinity, but on the other, the NFL is one of the few venues in which men openly embrace, weep, pat each other on the posterior, and unabashedly gush, “I love you” to each other.
For Becker, a gridiron vet who suited up in pads as an Austin first-grader and later played running back, tackle, and linebacker at a Catholic high school in Kansas, gay football stands out primarily because it’s not “overwhelmed by aggression.
“With straight `flag-football` teams, you can’t really have blocking, because people will get in fights,” he says. “So they have no-contact, eight-on-eight play in a lot of the city leagues. But our tournament is a little more open, it’s more of a passing game. You can only run once per touchdown drive.
“You’ll get on the field and you’ll be fierce and there is that contact. You get off the field, and it’s like, ‘Hey, great game!’ When I’ve played in the straight leagues, there isn’t this talk between the teams. They don’t go to the bar and hang out together. With the tournament we had in Dallas, they had a party afterward. It’s just a different atmosphere.”
Gay flag football grew out of the sport’s inclusion at the Gay Games, an annual sports event best described as the Olympics for the GLBT community. That provided the impetus for the creation of a California flag-football league, and Gay Bowl emerged in 2001. San Diego only had one team before the city hosted the national tournament in 2005, but has subsequently put together an eight-team league, while Chicago has 20 teams.
In Texas, however, the sport is developing at a slower rate. Houston has an established team that will compete at this year’s Gay Bowl, but Austin and San Antonio are only beginning to organize, and Dallas has proven to be a challenge.
“In Dallas, we have a hard time getting people to come out,” Becker says. “Or they’ve come out and they’ve quit.” When asked why so many players fail to stick around, he jokes, “I run them into the ground.”
At the Stallions’ first practice, Becker ran his ragtap group of volunteers, ranging from their early 20s to mid-40s, through a series of passing and catching drills, instructing them with stories about how Jerry Rice managed to create space between himself and defensive backs. The man throwing passes during the drills was Kyle Kozlovsky, 24, the team captain and a former high-school linebacker/lineman for Mesquite.
Kozlovsky used Craigslist, club fliers, and word of mouth to build local interest, and despite some no-shows, he’s content with the first-practice turnout, particularly because flag football is currently a harder sell in the gay community than the more established softball leagues.
“The major point of the league is we want to create a positive environment for people to come and play sports,” Koslovsky says. “We don’t have to be at the clubs. We’re a diverse community. We have jocks, people who like to play sports, and people who like to do other things. So it’s a big statement for us.” •