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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.

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“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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Protester with Pride flag disrupts World Cup game

Protest took place during match between Portugal and Uruguay

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(Al Jazeera screenshot)

During a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay Monday, a lone protester ran across the field waving a Pride flag moments after the second half kickoff.

Video and still images show the man wearing a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the Superman symbol and the phrase “Save Ukraine” on the front and “Respect for Iranian Woman” on the back.

Screenshot of news coverage at the World Cup 2022 games from Al Jazeera

Qatari security personnel chased him down and then marched him off the playing field. Israeli Public Radio correspondent Amichai Stein tweeted video clips of the incident:

FIFA had no immediate comment on the incident, the Associated Press noted reporting that in the first week of the tournament in Qatar, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multi-colored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches. Fans also complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

Qatar’s laws against homosexuality and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone was welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

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Blinken criticizes FIFA threat to fine World Cup team captains with ‘one love’ armbands

Qatar criminalizes homosexuality by death

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday criticized FIFA over its threat to sanction European soccer teams if their captains wore “one love” armbands during the 2022 World Cup.

“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression. It’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion,” Blinken told reporters during a press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha, the Qatari capital. “And in my judgment, at least, no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.”

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales had planned to wear the armbands in support of the LGBTQ and intersex community during the World Cup. The teams on Monday in a joint statement said they would not wear the armbands because FIFA had threatened to sanction them if their captains did.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death. A report that Human Rights Watch published last month noted several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment” of LGBTQ and intersex people while in police custody from 2019 and September 2022. 

A State Department official last week acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Blinken attended their match against Wales on Monday.

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European soccer teams won’t wear ‘one love’ armbands after FIFA threatens sanctions

World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday

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Iran plays England during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Nov. 21, 2022. (Screenshot via FS1)

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales planned to wear “one love” armbands during the World Cup. The teams in a joint statement said FIFA threatened to sanction them if their captains wore them.

“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play,” read the statement. “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision, which we believe is unprecedented.”

“As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings,” added the statement.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch last month published a report that noted “arbitrary” arrests of LGBTQ and intersex people between 2019 and September 2022 and several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period. World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman earlier this month described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” during an interview with a German television station.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, the country’s capital. A State Department official on Nov. 18 acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend their match against Wales on Monday.

England played Iran on Monday. The Netherlands on Monday will play Senegal.

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