By Dan Woog
October 1, 2007
Each winter, when “Sports Illustrated” unleashes its swimsuit edition on America, readers react predictably. Many men greet it with orgasmic pleasure; a few writers bloviate that they’ve removed it from their living rooms, bedrooms, or bathrooms, and huffily cancel their subscriptions. No one wonders why credit-card-thin models, with no visible connection to athletics, appear in a magazine otherwise wholly dedicated to sports.
Like “SI,” Outsports.com – the Internet’s favorite destination for all things GLBT-athletics-related, from an international gay rugby tournament to discus throwing in ancient Greece – also runs photos of eye-popping eye candy. Shirtless soccer players, Speedo-ed swimmers, and Super Bowl studs – some gay, most straight, a few wink-wink – are, like the site’s in-depth stories and interactive discussion boards, ways to keep users coming back for more.
But, though their photos always depict athletes, Outsports founders Jim Buzinski and Cyd Zeigler Jr. say they are criticized for running titillating photos that undermine the site’s journalistic integrity. Some of those comments come from gay athletes themselves.
Welcome to the still-evolving, often controversial, and always entertaining world of gay sports. It’s a relatively new niche, but one that Buzinski and Zeigler helped pioneer. Now, with the release of their first book, “The Outsports Revolution: Truth and Myth in the World of Gay Sports,” they’re bringing that world to a wider – and perhaps straighter – audience.
“I think we have a lot to say,” explains Buzinski, of the book’s genesis. “A book has permanence, and the potential to reach people who don’t see our stuff on the Web.” With a broad focus – stories range from gay sports history and the Gay Games to “the curse of the high school gym class” and how to date a sports nut – Buzinski hopes “The Outsports Revolution” will reel in readers who are interested in the role all sports play in American society. After all, the writers note, studies show that for rabid fans, the thrill of watching their favorite team in action can rival a sexual experience. Members of Queer Nation bond with members of Red Sox Nation in a way that’s unimaginable – and unstudied – in many other areas of life.
“My 17-year-old nephew asked a lot of questions about gay sports,” Buzinski says. “And my 32-year-old niece, who is not a sports fan, devoured the book.”
His niece also called him on the “Sports Illustrated”-like swimsuit section, which included negative comments about cheerleaders. “Aren’t you stereotyping them, the same way gay people don’t like to be stereotyped?” she asked. She was right, he admits.
Her comment got him thinking, which is exactly what Buzinski hopes the book will do for others. Among the most provocative sections, he says, is the first: “Why Should I Give a Damn About Sports?” “Lots of gay people instinctively diss sports, in many cases because of negative experiences growing up,” he says. “They think that games have no value. We talk about why they’re important: They’re dramatic, unscripted, and unpredictable, just like life. And, because they allow people to work, compete, laugh, and cry together, they provide a crucial community bonding experience.”
Buzinski cites other chapters as important, too, including “The Media’s Fumbling of Gay Sports,” “The Wave of Out Young Jocks,” and “Getting in the Game.” “We want gay sports to be accessible,” he says, referring to that how-to section for nonparticipants. “People have to get over the fear that gay sports today are like high school, when they always got picked last.”
Ziegler cites the section on transsexuals in sports as particularly noteworthy. “Gay people go through a lot of crap, but trans struggles are so difficult,” he says. “What’s interesting, though, is they’ve probably made more progress in sports – in tennis, women’s professional golf, the Olympics – than in most of the rest of society. The sports world views [transsexuality] as an issue of biology, not sociology. That’s pretty refreshing.”
“The Outsports Revolution” includes some of the most popular and groundbreaking stories from the website’s 7-year history. Where will the site – and gay sports in general – be seven years from now?
“It will be nice if there’s Outsports TV!” Buzinski laughed. “The big question, of course, is when will a male who’s an active player in a major sport come out. A 40-year-old told me, ‘Not in my lifetime,’ but I think that’s way too negative. I hope in seven years that will have happened, and it will be less of a story than it would be today.”
“I think our readership will change,” Ziegler adds. “We’re still at a time when gay people read gay books and watch gay movies. Seven years from now, our next book may be more about sexuality in sports than homosexuality in sports.”