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Taking one for the team

Tight end. Wide receiver. Go deep. Of course these are all football terms but we all know the “double-meaning” of them, which gays love to point out.

This past weekend, I participated in the try-outs for the 2010 season of the San Diego American Flag Football League (SDAFFL). I hadn’t planned to spend four hours on Saturday morning at the field learning how to pass, pull, and punt (and I’m not sure if I actually learned these things, but they are football terms that I heard thrown around), but I got talked into it. Ricky needed a ride down to the try-outs, and I decided to hang out for a bit and watch the boys (and a few girls) get dirty. Some friends of mine that were also there strongly encouraged me to just give it a shot, and well, I did.

Taking language straight from their website: “The SDAFFL seeks to promote the positive social and athletic enjoyment of American Flag Football. Through our league, our events and most importantly our members, we also seek to foster and augment the self-respect of GLBTQA persons and to engender respect and understanding from the larger community.”

I was so impressed that over 150 people turned out for this Saturday morning clinic, which resulted in everyone being drafted to one of several teams, each hand-selected by the coaches who were watching our every move. It was an incredibly well-organized event and a very positive experience that has changed my perception of our LGBT sports community.

I think gay sports is the one part of our community that I have never really paid much attention to, I suppose due to my apprehension towards participating in team sports (which likely has a lot to do with my childhood experiences playing T-ball and league soccer). Then of course the thought of flag football brought back awful memories of those awkward days in junior high school P.E., which is about the only other place I can think of where people actually play flag football.

Thankfully, the SDAFFL clinic I participated in proved to be a different experience. No one was laughed at or ridiculed for “messing-up.” The competition was healthy, but not the only aspect of the game. People were friendly, and of course, I didn’t have to worry about being the awkward gay kid with braces who fumbled (is that a football term?).

Following the morning clinic, SDAFFL hopefuls all gathered for a very upbeat “draft party” at Bourbon Street Bar in University Heights. Here, players new and old were able to mingle, socialize and get called up on stage one-by-one as they excitedly learned which team they had been drafted to. All of the new players were just as nervous as the rest, but were able to get to know each other and put those fears to rest. In talking to some veteran SDAFFL’ers, I learned that the league is more than just football, it’s about making friendships, getting involved in the community, and doing something positive for yourself.

Because of my overly-packed time schedule, I made it clear to the league officials at the end of the clinic that I did not want to be included in the draft. My schedule this year (which includes being in grad school) would likely require me to miss more than 50% of the games and practices, plus I wouldn’t want to force my lack of coordination onto any team.

Ricky was drafted onto the “Stonewall Citizens Patrol” team and I plan to be the team’s biggest cheerleader and “team mom” when I can make it to the games. I look forward to learning more about the various sports leagues and teams that are a part of our community and show them the same support that I do our other organizations and groups. I encourage everyone to consider trying a sport if you never have before – it’s likely nothing like you think it may be.

I wish all of the 150+ players and coaches involved with the SDAFFL the best of luck this season! I’ll be cheering you all on!

Ben Cartwright is SDGLN's Higher Education & Nonprofit Liaison and has been a campus and community activist in San Diego for over 10-years. His community involvement began as a student at SDSU and from there he launched into a number of other community activities. He has written for a number of local publications including Update, Hillquest, and GLT. Cartwright won the Lambda Archive's 2007 "Community Hero Award"; 2008 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Community Activist"; and a 2009 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Writer/Columnist.">