By Dan Woog
For years, ice hockey and lacrosse have been stereotyped as two of the sports least welcoming to gay men. They’re contact sports, played by insular groups: Canadians (hockey) and prep schoolers (lacrosse). Yes, stereotypes cut both ways.
For nearly a decade, GForce Sports has broken down hockey barriers. Its gay team has beaten (OK, demolished) straight opponents. Its speakers have addressed sports audiences nationwide, and its Athlete Buddy System has given hope to young gay hockey players.
Now it’s doing the same with lacrosse.
GForce has formed an elite gay lacrosse team. Drawing top players from around the country – some already out, others still in the process – the squad will compete in tournaments and do advocacy work off the field. Like its hockey counterpart, GForce lacrosse will use competition and education to smash stereotypes.
Andrew McIntosh leads the lacrosse charge. A former 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound captain at the State University of New York-Oneonta, he’s recruited a stellar squad. Straight players have said they’d join, if needed.
McIntosh knows that his sport has not always had a great reputation. He quotes the Washington Post: lacrosse players have “prehistoric views on human relationships, and are not sensitive to diversity.”
But, McIntosh says, “when you look closely at the locker room, you see a brotherhood. It’s a tight-knit community, with very powerful friendships built on trust.”
When he came out at Oneonta, his teammates were “very supportive.” A few opponents apologized for having ever offended him.
His coming-out process was eased because, a year before, McIntosh heard head coach Dan Mahar chastise a player for calling a drill “gay.” Mahar said that language was “inappropriate.”
Mahar reemphasized his support. McIntosh recounted his coach’s words: “If we had a roster of 30 players and 15 of them did not want to play on the team because I was gay, he would tell them to leave the team.”
Brian Kitts is GForce’s director of marketing and public relations. He roomed with lacrosse players at the University of Denver, then worked for the company that owned the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, and the Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League.
He found lacrosse to be a very welcoming sport. “None of our players has had any negative experiences,” he says. “And in the NLL, I never heard any anti-gay joking.”
Like McIntosh, Kitts believes the stereotype of a homophobic lacrosse culture is unfair. In fact, he would not call any sport “anti-gay.”
Kitts says, “Any time you get a group of men together in a competitive situation, your social norms and innate competitiveness take over. Lacrosse is on an equal level with soccer, football, anything else in terms of that. Which means we have a an equal opportunity with those other sports to do education and outreach.”
The aim, Kitts says, is to “let players, fans and coaches know they’ve played with – and are playing with now – people who are gay. And to let them know too, ‘Why would you or anyone else care?'”
Kitts adds, “These are exceptional guys. Lacrosse players have big personalities to begin with. To be out, and a lacrosse athlete, is even more impressive. They’re great players, and excellent speakers.
“If you can talk to kids when they’re still playing sports, you can make a difference,” Kitts adds, referring to the speaking engagements GForce seeks out. “It’s important to let them know there are people just like them, if they’re gay – or not like them, if they’re straight. Either way, they’re still worthy opponents, and there’s nothing to worry about.”
Kitts says that both audiences are vital. “The work we do with LGBT youth is incredibly important. But reaching the hearts and minds of straight allies, fans and support businesses is very important too.”
GForce is reaching out to high school and college athletic directors, coaches and players. This fall, when they play on the East Coast, they’ll speak at prep schools, where lacrosse is a particularly hot sport.
It’s a milieu that GForce team members know well. “So many lacrosse players are well educated,” says Kitts. “They’re a fun group of athletes to work with. They’re confident because they’re great players. And by being out, they’re very sure of themselves.”
Speaking at forums and in assemblies is one thing. A different kind of education comes when elite gay lacrosse players beat their straight counterparts – and do it with a smile. “Winning on the field is always more instructive than sitting people down to hear a lecture,” Kitts says.
For more information, visit http://www.GForceSports.org. Players interested in joining the lacrosse team should email [email protected]