The way the world thinks about LGBT professional athletes is changing. Although high-profile athletes are making headline news for publicly coming out – like the recent announcement made by NBA basketball player Jason Collins – it’s just as important to recognize LGBT participation in sports within smaller hometown communities.
The Metro Detroit LGBT Softball League was established in 1985 and is home to more than 500 seasoned veterans and beginners who show their athletic talents without fear.
“Many of us, including myself, have been a part of some sort of sports team or league since 5 and 6 years old through college and now into the recreational sports scene. It’s part of our life. It’s what we do. We’ve been doing it for decades. The sudden realization that there is a gay professional sports athlete out there to many of us is like, ‘… and so what?’ LGBT people have been playing sports for decades. It shouldn’t be a surprise that there is a gay athlete anymore,” said Bill Peters, MDSL public relations committee chair since 2006.
“What it boils down to is awareness. Media outlets bear some of that responsibility. No one ever mentions or writes about the local LGBT sports leagues on a continuous basis. For example, in the Metro Detroit area there are three to four different LGBT bowling leagues, the softball league, a flag football league, a tennis league, a golf league, a curling team, swimming groups and running groups. Media, including the LGBT media need to cover this on a regular basis as it will help break down more barriers,” said Peters. “Getting a consistent message of player X, who hits the winning run in to win the championship should be the news. The fact that they’re LGBT should be a non-issue. It won’t be tomorrow, may not be next year, but it will happen with the help of leagues like MDSL and media portrayals representing LGBT sports in that perspective.”
MDSL has made it their purpose to provide and protect the opportunity for individuals who support the bonds of gay fellowship to play softball in an atmosphere of friendly competition, free of discrimination on the basis of age, race, creed, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation and preference, or ability. MDSL aims to foster knowledge and training in the field of softball, aimed at educating the community served about the physical, social, psychological, and intellectual benefits of athletics.
In collaboration with leagues in Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, the Midwest Invitational Softball Tournament is held every Labor Day weekend. The greatest thing about MDSL, according to Peters, is how it has grown and changed over the years. In 2005, there were only seven teams. In 2006, MIST in Detroit hosted 24 teams, 32 teams in 2010, and the goal is to reach 44 teams in 2014.
“To get this growth, it took a lot of hard work to get the name and mission of the league out there. The league has set goals to make sure our communication is consistent and reaches as many of the Metro Detroit LGBT population as possible, making it one of the largest in the Midwest,” he said.
MIST will celebrate its 29th year in the summer of 2014. Detroit will host the tournament at the Canton Sports Center. “We will be able to have up to 48 teams. This is the largest group of teams MIST has hosted and will host to date. We are actively seeking volunteers, sponsors and donations,” he said.
In an effort to help cover costs of the fields, umpires, balls, score sheets, advertising, opening and closing parties, and transportation, MDSL hosts a MIST Night fundraiser the first Saturday of every month at MBII in Warren. “The monthly events allow us to keep fundraising efforts going over a four-year period versus cramming it all in during the year prior or the year of the tournament. It also helps us keep MDSL and MIST on the minds of the community,” said Peters. “The performers at MBII are longtime members of MDSL. We’ve been very fortunate to get huge support from Bill B and his team.”
The secretary of MDSL, Tommy Ford (aka Iona Trailer), has organized a special event to benefit the Ruth Ellis Center on June 14 at MBII. “I feel that that I’ve been fortunate up to this point in my life so I wanted to do something positive and to give back to my community for my birthday, not just do something that was all about me. I first learned about the Ruth Ellis Center a few years ago when the MDSL accepted donations for it during our season kick-off party. I was so impressed with the wonderful work they do for LGBTQ youth in the area. I can’t imagine being a kid and being kicked out on to the streets because of being gay. It’s very sad to me that there is a need for the Ruth Ellis Center, but it’s reality that there is such a need and just wishing it weren’t true doesn’t help. By organizing this benefit, I can help,” said Ford.
For those who are interested in joining the league, Peters said he encourages them to come out to the fields to watch. “We offer play at three different levels, competitive, recreational-competitive and recreational. We have a way to help those that don’t have the experience get used to the environment and help them learn,” he said. “We offer a way for people to congregate, build friendships and, like in any team environment, build that sense of team pride and unity. This is not just a softball league this is a family. Competition at any level is a great way to build a team and pride. All levels of play in the league have some form of competition. That competition turns into team pride, which turns into having fun, win or lose. It helps build that sense of belonging to those that may not have had the opportunity to do it in high school or college, or it continues for the others that have had it their whole lives through playing sports.”