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OutSports’ next play

10 years after debut, gay sports site acquired by SB Nation

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Cyd Zeigler, OutSports, gay news, Washington Blade
Cyd Zeigler, Jim Buzinski, OutSports, gay news, Washington Blade

Cyd Zeigler (left) and Jim Buzinski have guided OutSports through 10 years of change, and see their acquisition by SB Nation as the next chapter in their story. (Photos courtesy Zeigler and Buzinski)

For more than 10 years, OutSports.com has been a leader in sharing stories from the amateur and professional sports world with a decidedly gay point of view.

“OutSports definitely fills a needed niche within the realm of sports,” says avid sports fan and gay man, Ken Nash. “If you’re wanting news about the gay boycott of Sochi or events like the Gay Games, it’s the first site people go to.”

Three years before creating OutSports.com, gay sports enthusiasts and flag football players Cyd Zeigler and Jim Buzinski met playing in the Los Angeles league in the late 1990s. They bemoaned the lack of an LGBT voice in coverage of sports news, and it dawned on them to fill the void themselves.

FIND MORE OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE SPORTS ISSUE HERE.

“Why don’t we just do this thing called a website,” Buzinski told the Blade, who said Zeigler came up with the name “OutSports” when the pair discovered gaysports.com was taken. “Once he said it, it was like ‘oh, that’s it,’ and we never went back.”

In March, OutSports — which has grown from a small site with pages dedicated to the promotion of gay sports into a reputable news source that covers all aspects of LGBT issues in sports — was acquired by Vox Media, a Washington, D.C.-based web publishing company, and became part of their flagship site, SB Nation. Buzinski and Zeigler maintain creative and editorial control.

“People were afraid that becoming part of a mainstream publication would mean that OutSports is going to be de-gayed, and that has not been the case,” Zeigler told the Blade about SB Nation — a massive site of sports-related community-driven editorial content. “The fact that a mainstream publication wanted to acquire a very gay website says a lot about where sports media is today and where this company is today.”

Buzinski and Zeigler began to consider joining a larger organization several years ago, and reached out to several other LGBT publications, but after the New York Times profiled the pair in April 2011, SB Nation reached out to the two pioneering gay sports bloggers.

Sports fans are coming out of the closet en masse in the LGBT community recently, and cities like Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago and New York have seen an explosion of amateur LGBT leagues in every sport imaginable. But when the duo met in 1998, gay sports fans were less open about their passion.

“It’s an area that older gay people shunned for a variety of reasons, a lot of it legitimate,” Buzinski says about why organized sports were not considered a part of the LGBT identity in the early years of the site.

“It felt like you almost had to defend yourself for being a sports fan. Because people would talk about how bullying the culture was, and you felt like ‘I just love the sport, I love the action, I love the players,’” Buzinski continued. “They just didn’t feel a part of it or accepted — except for sports like softball, which has had gay teams forever — but now it seems that every city has dozens of teams of active gay clubs. So I think at the recreational level, people are saying, ‘Hey, we can be in any field. We’re not restricted.’”

Buzinski and Zeigler say the Internet, and sites like OutSports have helped change the perception of organized sports in the LGBT community, as well as change the perception of LGBT athletes in the community of athletics.

“As a huge gay sports fan growing up, [OutSports] seemed like one of the only places where you could actually find sports news from an LGBT perspective, and also find other openly gay sports fans,” Change.org senior campaign director and longtime reader, Michael Jones, told the Blade. “I definitely think the site has had a tremendous amount of influence in getting outlets like Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, ESPN and more to cover LGBT issues in sports.”

Buzinski and Zeigler see the partnership with SB Nation as a sign of a changing landscape in sports media, where a general sports audience is more open to and interested in stories of LGBT athletes, and gay sports fans will continue to be “de-ghettoized,” as Zeigler says.

“I think having a partner like SB Nation gives us more resources to do things that we’ve not been able to do until now,” Buzinski says.

The vibe and feel of OutSports has changed since it was acquired by SB Nation, and it now has a much more polished, Grantland-esque feel to it than a charming and scrappy blog,” says Change.org’s Jones. “But looks aside, I’ve still enjoyed the content, still visit the site multiple times a week, and still hope that the exposure stories on OutSports get among the fans of SB Nation open up LGBT sports coverage to even greater numbers of readers, particularly straight readers, who haven’t been used to reading about the lives of LGBT people in the sports world.”

Zeigler says that as LGBT sports issues change, OutSports will continue to evolve at its new home.

“We cover things differently than we did 10 years ago, and five years from now we’ll cover things differently,” he tells the Blade. “With SB Nation, we’re not just read by a mostly gay audience anymore, we’re now read by a lot of straight people. ”

That means the ability to expose a mainstream audience to new issues, and bring wider attention to ways athletics is adapting to an era of the out and open athlete.

“Transgender people are misunderstood, but transgender athletes have the furthest to go [in terms of acceptance in sports],” Zeigler says about one of the next LGBT issues needing to be tackled. “I think we need education in terms of what it means to transition in the sports world.”

Zeigler also sees casual homophobia as a problem.

“I think this is the No. 1 problem. I think systemic homophobia is not really the issue here, it’s the perception of homophobia in sports,” Zeigler says. “And heterosexism.”

OutSports avoids trying to be all things to everyone, but concentrates on shedding light on issues of interest of LGBT athletes and fans.

“For more substantive game-by-game analysis, I prefer ESPN but that isn’t what OutSports tries to be,” sports fan Ken Nash says.

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Formula One racing star wears LGBTQ Pride helmet at Qatar Grand Prix

“It’s down to whether you decide to educate yourself, hold the sport more accountable and make sure the sport is actually doing something”

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Lewis Hamilton Formula One helmet design via Hamilton's Twitter

DOHA, Qatar – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team’s seven time Grand Prix champion driver Lewis Hamilton won in the inaugural run of the Qatar Grand Prix Formula One race Sunday.

That was not the only significant event that the 36-year-old race car driver participated in during his Qatar stay as prior to the race, Hamilton had shown support for the LGBTQ+ community during a practice session on Friday, wearing a a helmet featuring the Pride Progress Flag, a redesigned and more inclusive version of the traditional rainbow flag, and emblazoned with the words “We Stand Together.”

The flag features additional black and brown stripes to highlight the oppression of people of color, as well as pink and blue stripes for the trans flag and a purple circle on a yellow background, which is the intersex flag.

On his personal Twitter account the Formula One racer tweeted pictures of his helmet, which he wore at the end of Trans Awareness Week and this weekend which marks the International Transgender Day of Remembrance on Saturday.

Hamilton had received a knighthood from the British monarch Queen Elizabeth II in December a year ago for his human rights and advocacy work with his private charity, The Hamilton Commission, which the Stevenage, Hertfordshire, UK native set-up to simultaneously address the underrepresentation of Black people in UK motorsport, as well as the STEM sector.

The queen’s honors are awarded twice a year, in late December and in June, when the monarch’s birthday is observed. The awards acknowledge hundreds of people for services to community or British national life. Recipients are selected by committees of civil servants from nominations made by the government and the public.

In an interview with the Guardian, Hamilton said that he believes “sportspeople are duty bound to speak out on human rights matters in the countries they visit. With Qatar hosting its first Formula One Grand Prix this weekend and facing new allegations of worker exploitation and abuse in its preparations for next year’s football World Cup, Hamilton insisted he would hold the sport to account for the places it chooses to race.

Prior to the debut of the Qatar Formula One race and with the 2022 FIFA World Cup matches slated for 2022 in Qatar, focus once more fell on human rights issues. The Guardian reported that workers within the state have claimed that reforms to the country’s restrictive kafala labour sponsorship system have been ineffective while human rights groups continue to highlight oppressive male guardianship policies as well as discriminatory laws against women and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Lewis Hamilton 2016 Malaysia Grand Prix
(Photo by Morio)

“We’re aware there are issues in these places that we’re going to,” Hamilton told the Guardian. “But of course [Qatar] seems to be deemed as one of the worst in this part of the world. As sports go to these places, they are duty bound to raise awareness for these issues. These places need scrutiny. Equal rights is a serious issue.”

He added: “If we are coming to these places, we need to be raising the profile of the situation. One person can only make a certain amount of small difference but collectively we can have a bigger impact. Do I wish that more sportsmen and women spoke out on these issues? Yes.

“It’s down to whether you decide to educate yourself and hold the sport more accountable and make sure the sport is actually doing something when they go to those places.”

CNN reported that British intersex activist and columnist Valentino Vecchietti finalized the version seen on Hamilton’s helmet, which includes the intersex flag. “It means everything,” Vecchietti told CNN. “I can’t express what an amazing, massive, massive thing Lewis Hamilton has done. And I feel emotional talking about it, because we are so hidden and stigmatized as a population.”

The Pride Progress flag by Valentino Vecchietti to include representation for the intersex community.
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International Olympic Committee issues new “Framework On Fairness” for inclusion of Trans Athletes

The International Olympic Committee announced new guidance allowing “every person” to participate & abandons testosterone levels as criteria

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International Olympic Committee Headquarters (Photo by Greg Martin; courtesy IOC)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Following the first Olympic Games in which transgender athletes not only competed but made history by winning a gold medal, the International Olympic Committee stunned the world of sport Tuesday by not revising the criteria focused on testosterone, as expected, but moving away from it altogether. 

The IOC announced its new Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations in a Zoom meeting hosted in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The leaders said they consulted with 250 athletes and “concerned stakeholders” including medical and legal experts over two years, and determined “every person has the right to practice sport without discrimination and in a way that respects their health, safety and dignity.” While stressing that competitive sports “relies on a level playing field,” the IOC tacitly acknowledged the complaints of trans-exclusionary cisgender women athletes by stating support for “the central role that eligibility criteria play in ensuring fairness, particularly in high-level organized sport in the women’s category.”

GLAAD heralded the announcement as making it clear that “no athlete has an inherent advantage over another due to their gender identity, sex variations, or appearance.” 

“This is a victory for all athletes and fans, who know the power and potential of sports to bring people together and make us all stronger,” said Alex Schmider of GLAAD. “Sports are for everyone, and fairness in sports means inclusion, belonging and safety for all who want to participate, including transgender, intersex, and nonbinary athletes.”

What the IOC didn’t do was issue new criteria for testosterone levels and did not define who is or isn’t a woman, and for the first time in modern Olympic history, is walking away from its “one size fits all” guidance. It’ll be left up to each sport and governing body to determine who is eligible to compete. The IOC guidance is that the criteria should respect internationally recognized human rights, rely on robust scientific evidence as well as athlete consultation, and that “precautions be taken to avoid causing harm to the health and well-being of athletes.” 

Although intended to guide elite athletes, the committee suggested all levels of sport, even recreational and grassroots sport, respect inclusion and non-discrimination policies.

Here are the 10 principles outlined by the IOC to to welcome all athletes at every level of participation, centered on the values of inclusion, prevention of harm and non-discrimination.

1. Inclusion 

2. Prevention of Harm

3. Non-discrimination

4. Fairness

5. No presumption of Advantage

6. Evidence-based Approach

7. Primacy of Health and Bodily Autonomy

8. Stakeholder-Centered Approach

9. Right to Privacy

10. Periodic Reviews

Athlete Ally was one of the agencies consulted by the IOC in determining this framework. “We hope to continue working closely with the IOC to ensure that the policies and practices governing sport actually include and represent the diversity of people playing sport,” said Anne Lieberman, Director of Policy and Programs at Athlete Ally. 

“Far too often, sport policy does not reflect the lived experience of marginalized athletes, and that’s especially true when it comes to transgender athletes and athletes with sex variations,” said Quinn of Canada’s Olympic Soccer team and the world’s first trans nonbinary gold medalist. “This new IOC framework is groundbreaking in the way that it reflects what we know to be true — that athletes like me and my peers participate in sports without any inherent advantage, and that our humanity deserves to be respected.”  

“I think that the IOC has made a powerful statement in favor of transgender inclusion, but I think that items 5 and 6 in their framework are problematic,” said Joanna Harper, the visiting fellow for transgender athletic performance at Loughborough University in the U.K. and a former IOC consultant. 

“On average, transgender women are taller, bigger and stronger than cisgender women and these are advantages in many sports,” Harper told the Los Angeles Blade. “It is also unreasonable to ask sporting federations to have robust, peer-reviewed research prior to placing any restrictions on transgender athletes in elite sports. Such research is years or maybe decades away from completion. I do think that recreational sports should allow unrestricted inclusion of trans athletes.” 

As San Francisco-based trans journalist Ina Fried noted in Axios, the IOC said that sex testing, genital inspections and other medical procedures to determine gender put all athletes at risk of harm and abuse, not just trans, intersex and nonbinary athletes. But the bottom line, Fried wrote, is that this new framework isn’t legally binding on any sports governing bodies, which now have carte blanche to write their own rules for eligibility.

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Proud to be a Fury

New film a touching tribute to the history of women’s rugby

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(Photo courtesy of Coleen McCloskey)

The last time that the Blade checked in with DC Furies player Liz Linstrom, she mentioned that she would always contribute to the club even if injuries sidelined her ability to play.

That statement proved to be prophetic as Linstrom experienced her third ACL tear while in the beginnings of filming a documentary about the Furies.

Linstrom had created a short documentary on women’s rugby and femininity as an undergraduate student at William & Mary and the itch was still there to produce more creative work.

Even though she was working three jobs and playing with the Furies, she felt she had enough work flexibility to pitch a documentary to the club in the fall of 2019.

The original idea was a past, present, and future look at women’s rugby in the United States through the lens of the players. 

Established in 1978, the Furies quickly developed into a highly competitive club, and they are currently competing in the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Union and the Capital Geographic Union, with both Division 1 and Division 3 teams.

In March of 2020, the Furies were ramping up to host their 40th annual Ruggerfest tournament, one of the largest all-women’s rugby tournaments in the United States with brackets including high school, college, social, and competitive clubs.

Then the unexpected happened.

“COVID hit, the tournament was cancelled, and filming of the documentary came to an abrupt stop,” says Linstrom. “The story shifted to the resilience of women and club sports in a way that professional and semi-professional sports teams can’t relate.”

The resulting film, “Furious,” is a touching tribute to the history of women’s rugby, women’s rights, the Furies, tradition, family, and maneuvering through COVID.

Four gay women are central figures in the film with one being married and another nonbinary. The players share what women’s rugby was like in the 1970s.

“The beginnings of women’s rugby in the United States coincided with Title IX in 1972. As a sport in its early beginnings, teams couldn’t afford to push people away. If you wanted to hit someone, you were on the team,” Linstrom says. “By the 1990s, the women’s rugby community was advocating for LGBTQ rights and the Furies had Candace Gingrich as a long-time player. Eighty percent of the team were lesbians.”

Other aspects of women’s rugby that are brought to light are the camaraderie, commitment, sense of family, and the queer elements of the community.

One Fury player breaks her nose 20 minutes into a match, shoves a tampon up her nose, and goes back in as a blood substitution. Another player breaks her wrist and carpools five hours the next day to North Carolina to support her team during a game.

Toward the end of the film, Linstrom addresses the impact of COVID on a club team such as the Furies. Some are concerned about coming back to play and wonder whether the excitement will still be there. Others think about trying to replace the players who are leaving the D.C. area.

“Nothing will keep us from getting together. We are not pro athletes, but the highest levels of women’s rugby in the United States is still club teams,” says Linstrom. “The legacy of the club is very important to all of us. Every time we step onto the pitch, we are standing on the shoulders of the players who came before us. They are our founding bricks.”

“Furious” premiered online in September for family, friends, and Furies players with viewership in 15 states. Linstrom funded the project as producer and director along with a grant from Arlington Cultural Affairs. The film will now be submitted to festivals to reach a larger audience. 

Linstrom has moved on from her three part-time jobs and is now working full-time as a video editor at a production studio in Alexandria along with coaching rugby at American University. 

The Furies were able to play sevens rugby over the summer and had the first game of their fall fifteens season on Sept. 25.

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