By Dan Woog
Wrestling was big in Oklahoma, where Ty Nolan went to high school. His brother and sister were involved in rodeo – another big sport.
Yet Nolan chose his own path. He became an American Indian dancer. With three-quarters Native American blood (Tiwa and Sahaptin) he enjoyed donning leggings and feathers, and performing in powwows. What he did is sometimes called “straight dancing.” Nolan laughs at the irony. He is gay.
After college in Florida, he moved to Arizona. A former boyfriend subscribed to Compete Magazine. “We are gay sports,” the tagline proclaims. Though Nolan did not consider himself an avid sports fan, he was intrigued to learn the publication was headquartered just a mile from his Tempe home. With his background in writing and communications – Nolan is a former college professor and educational consultant, working in areas like AIDS and sex education – he became a blogger on Compete’s website.
The magazine, website – and now a radio show cover sports in a gay-related way. But it’s not all gay, all the time. “Being gay is not someone’s only identity,” Nolan explains. “Some of what we do is just what any sports fan would like to see.”
Nolan posts at least once a day. He tries to make his stories fun – and is always looking for an interesting angle. He points to Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee sprinter from South Africa who is the new model for Thierry Mugler’s cologne A*Men. Nolan’s blog post quoted Women’s Wear Daily: “Pistorius’ thighs and carbon fiber artificial limbs come coated in a futuristic chrome cladding.”
“It’s not exactly gay,” Nolan says. “But there’s a gay overtone.”
Another story – not gay really, but certainly one with appeal to LGBT readers – examined women’s full-contact football. Nolan highlighted a player he considered particularly compelling: a Boston woman whose day job is microbiologist.
Some posts are clearly gay-related: a profile of British rugby star (and straight ally) Ben Cohen, with three striking photos. A piece on a female-to-male college basketball player. A story on New York Rangers star Sean Avery’s “bromance” with out Bravo executive Andy Cohen. (Avery has said he would fly anywhere to stand in the locker room alongside any high school hockey player when he comes out to teammates.)
Nolan points with particular pride to a story on an African-American athlete with two black lesbian Muslims as parents. That had plenty of depth and breadth.
Yet other posts have nothing to do with sexuality: the New York Yankees pitching rotation (the fattest in baseball), for example, and a story on a high school wrestler who forfeited a state tournament match rather than face a girl.
Blogging for Compete has been an education, Nolan says. “As a small, feminine-looking boy, sports was not always welcoming to me,” he admits. “And I lacked depth perception, so anything involving catching a ball was hard. Now, I walk through the door of sports in a very different – and much more comfortable – way.”
Nolan “loves discovering people.” “I heard about an Asian-Panamanian high school wrestler in San Francisco who was out. It was exciting to talk to him and his coach.” Nolan then put the wrestler in touch with Hudson Taylor, a straight wrestler who initiated an “Athlete Ally” project. As an activist in both the Native American and gay communities, Nolan says he appreciates the chance to “be a catalyst, and connect people together.”
Compete’s website could be seen as competing against OutSports.com, the well-established “go-to” site for gay sports. Nolan does not believe it. “We are a full media outlet,” ‘he says. “We’ve got a magazine and a radio program. We hope to get into TV.” In fact, he says, OutSports often cooperates with Compete for its radio show.
The radio program began as an Internet stream. There were interviews with people like out New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup, and non-gay topics like the pressures California schools face from Title IX.
The radio show launched in early March on KPHX, an AM station in Phoenix. It’s more local; for example, after blogging about women’s full-contact football nationally, Nolan interviewed players on an Arizona team. He brought Native American issues onto the air with a story about Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, a baseball spring training facility for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies that is the first in the nation built on Indian land.
“I’m still finding the balance between outright gay advocacy, gay-related stories and sports,” Nolan says, referring to both his blogs and radio shows. “It’s a work in progress.”
As is the entire sports world, as it moves to include and accept LGBT people in all levels of athletics, all across the country.