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More straight athletes joining gay leagues

Finding fellowship in addition to competition

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straight athletes
straight athletes

Robbie Ladd, on left, who’s straight and married, plays in the DC Gay Flag Football League. He said it’s the most organized intramural league he’s seen. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Majoros)

More than 30 years ago, in cities with large gay populations, LGBT sports teams and clubs began popping up. By playing sports with members of their own community, LGBT athletes were able to compete in a safe space with no fear of bullying or homophobia.

Over time, straight athletes began participating in the LGBT sports community. At first, it was relatives of the LGBT athletes showing up to compete at events as a show of support; a mother, a brother, a sister. About 10 years ago, a few bold straight athletes began joining the LGBT sports teams with no fears about any suspicions or backlash from their friends and family. Those people, such as husband and wife John and Ellyn Vail of the District of Columbia Aquatics Club became the first of a wave of straight sports allies.

Just in the past few years alone, the number of straight people joining LGBT teams and leagues is clearly noticeable. Pick any one of the more than 30 LGBT sports offered in the D.C. area and you will find straight players. The reasons for joining are probably different for each of them but it is safe to say that it is a glimpse of things to come.

Robbie Ladd is active duty military and he and his wife Jeanie Baker Ladd work as Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists. He has always played organized sports in civilian leagues and in the military. Earlier this year, he was at a party and heard about the DC Gay Flag Football League.

“I went out for the spring season and was drafted into the league and found it to be the most organized intramural community league I have ever competed in,” says Ladd.  “The players are down to earth and show up ready to play flag football.”

Ladd, along with his teammates, won the spring season championships. He was disappointed that he did not travel to Pride Bowl in Chicago where the D.C. players took the tournament title.

“I thought I wasn’t allowed to go because I am straight,” says Ladd. “I found out that I was welcome too late to join the travel team in Chicago.”

He did travel to Beach Bowl in Rehoboth Beach this summer where he and his teammates finished in second place.

“I have been very impressed with the incredible fellowship among the flag football players,” says Ladd. “One of the players lost a lot of his belongings in a house fire this year and all the players showed up with items to help him get back on his feet.”

Ladd and his wife are relocating to Fort Lauderdale soon where he just might look up the local LGBT flag football team.

Katie Lancos began playing water polo in Montreal when she was 12 years old and continued to play on her college team at Notre Dame. Right after college, she moved to D.C. and discovered the Washington Wetskins.

“I did a Google search and found about four teams, but the Wetskins came up first in the search,” says Lancos. “One of the frequently asked questions was: I am straight. Can I still play?”

Lancos joined the team and went on to compete at the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatic Championships when they were held in D.C. and again last year when they were held in Seattle. Last week, she competed at her first Gay Games and was joined in the pool by her brother Matt who is also straight.

“My friends are pretty open and I have never been challenged by anyone as to why I compete on an LGBT-based team,” says Lancos.

According to Lancos, the Wetskins are a very team-oriented group and she thrives in that atmosphere.

“The Wetskins are a wildly different group of people who have formed a family through the commonality of sports,” says Lancos.  “We all have a shared goal of wanting to win, train and be better.”

straight athletes

Kevin Donlon has a gay best friend and welcomes the opportunity to compete against him in a gay swimming league. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Majoros)

Kevin Donlon grew up in California and played lacrosse at St. Mary’s College of California. After college, he switched over to U.S. Masters Swimming and began competing in triathlons. In 2012, he went with a friend to Darwin, Australia for the Asia Pacific Outgames and last week competed at his first Gay Games.

“My best friend is gay and I welcome any opportunity to spend time and compete with my friend,” says Donlon.

Donlon trains in California and was a popular addition to the District of Columbia Aquatics Club contingent at the Games. He says he found the LGBT swimmers to be kind, welcoming, happy and an easy group to integrate into.

“People struck up conversations with me more often than what I have experienced at straight meets,” says Donlon.  “And for an unexpected added bonus, the friendliness of the swimmers offered me the opportunity to strike up conversations, which is not something I usually do.”

Donlon won a bronze medal in open water swimming and a gold medal in the 1500 freestyle at the pool.

An unexpected twist to the intermingling of straight and LGBT athletes is that the flip side of the trend is also happening. Gay athletes are switching to straight leagues.

Kyle Suib started his rowing career at the University of Delaware and still wanting to compete beyond college, he joined the DC Strokes Rowing Club. He loved his time on the team and made several new friends but realized his competitive spark wasn’t satisfied.

“We were one unit in college and I just couldn’t identify as a gay rower,” says Suib. “I live and die by the sport and I just happen to be gay.”

Suib decided to leave the Strokes and had one of his college coaches give him the needed recommendation to join Potomac Boat Club rowing. He says his new teammates don’t focus on gay or straight. It’s all about the team. There are now four gay men on the Potomac Boat Club team and the four have been joined at Nellie’s and Town by their straight teammates.

“We are a family and now we are a more diverse family,” says Suib.

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Photos

PHOTOS: DCGFFL 25th Anniversary Party

Gay flag football league marks milestone at Penn Social

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The D.C. Gay Flag Football league held a party celebrating their 25th season at Penn Social on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League (DCGFFL) held a 25th season anniversary party at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. Proceeds from the event benefited the LGBTQ youth services organization SMYAL as well as the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Books

New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’

‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more

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(Book cover image courtesy of Hachette Books)

‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
$29/320 pages

You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.

“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.

In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.

The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.

The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.

Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.

“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.

While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.” 

In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.

“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.

Girls and women  still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.

Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.

Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort.  There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.

The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”

“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches. 

Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.

“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”

“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.

Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.

“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”

Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.

You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.

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Theater

Rupert Murdoch’s powers on full display in ‘Ink’

Media baron helped pave the way for Brexit, Prime Minister Thatcher

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Cody Nickell (Larry Lamb) and Andrew Rein (Rupert Murdoch) in ‘Ink’ at Round House Theatre. (Photo by Margot Schulman Photography)

‘Ink’
Through Sept. 24
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814
$46-$94
Roundhousetheatre.org

Yes, Rupert Murdoch’s loathsome traits are many, but his skills to succeed are undeniably numerous. 

In the first scenes of John Graham’s West End and Broadway hit drama “Ink,” an exciting year-long detail from the life of a burgeoning media baron, Murdoch’s powers of persuasion are on full display.

It’s 1969 London. Over dinner with editor Larry Lamb, a young Murdoch shares his plan to buy the Sun and rebrand the dying broadsheet, replacing the Daily Mirror as Britain’s best-selling tabloid. What’s more, he wants to do it in just one year with Lamb at the helm. 

Initially reluctant, Lamb becomes seduced by the idea of running a paper, something that’s always eluded him throughout his career, and something Murdoch, the outsider Australian, understands. Murdoch taunts him, “Not you. Not Larry Lamb, the Yorkshire-born son of a blacksmith, not the guy who didn’t get a degree from Oxford or Cambridge, who didn’t get a degree from anywhere. Not you.”

Still, Lamb, played convincingly by Cody Nickell in Round House Theatre’s stellar season-opener, a co-production with Olney Theatre Center, remains unsure. But Murdoch (a delightfully brash Andrew Rein) is undeterred, and seals the deal with a generous salary. 

Superbly staged by director Jason Loweth, “Ink” is riveting. Its exchanges between Lamb and Murdoch are a strikingly intimate glimpse into ambition involving an ostensibly average editor and a striving money man who doesn’t like people.  

Once on board, Lamb is trolling Fleet Street in search of his launch team, played marvelously by some mostly familiar actors. He makes his most important hire — news editor Brian McConnell (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) — in a steam bath. The remainder of the Sun’s new masthead falls handily into place: Joyce Hopkirk (Kate Eastwood Norris) the women’s page editor whose forward thinking is marred by her casual racism; Zion Jang plays Beverley Goodway, an awkwardly amusing young photographer; persnickety deputy editor Bernard Shrimsley (Michael Glenn) who learns to love ugly things; and an old school sports editor who proves surprisingly versatile, played by Ryan Rillette, Round House’s artistic director. 

At Lamb’s suggestion, the team brainstorms about what interests Sun readers. They decide on celebrities, pets, sports, free stuff, and —rather revolutionarily for the time —TV.  Murdoch is happy to let readers’ taste dictate content and the “Why” of the sacred “five Ws” of journalism is out the window. 

Murdoch is portrayed as a not wholly unlikable misanthrope. He dislikes his editors and pressman alike. He particularly hates unions. His advice to Lamb is not to get too chummy with his subordinates. Regarding the competition, Murdoch doesn’t just want to outperform them, he wants to grind them to dust. 

Loewith leads an inspired design team. Scenic designer Tony Cisek’s imposing, inky grey edifice made from modular walls is ideally suited for Mike Tutaj’s projections of headlines, printed pages, and Rein’s outsized face as Murdoch. Sound designer and composer Matthew M. Nielson ably supplies bar noises and the nonstop, pre-digital newspaper clatter of presses, linotypes, and typewriters.

From a convenient second tiered balcony, the Daily Mirror’s establishment power trio Hugh Cudlipp (Craig Wallace), Chris Lee Howard (Chris Geneback) and Sir Percy (Walter Riddle) overlook all that lies below, discussing new tactics and (mostly failed) strategies to remain on top.   

Increasingly comfortable in the role of ruthless, sleazy editor, Lamb is unstoppable.

Obsessed with overtaking the Daily Mirror’s circulation, he opts for some sketchy reportage surrounding the kidnapping and presumed murder of Muriel McKay, the wife of Murdoch’s deputy Sir Alick (Todd Scofield). The kidnappers mistook Muriel for Murdoch’s then-wife Anna (Sophia Early). Next, in a move beyond the pale, Lamb introduces “Page 3,” a feature spotlighting a topless female model. Awesta Zarif plays Stephanie, a smart young model. She asks Lamb if he would run a semi-nude pic of his similarly aged daughter? His reaction is uncomfortable but undaunted. 

For Murdoch’s purposes, history proves he chose well in Lamb. By year’s end, the Sun is Britain’s most widely read tabloid. Together they give the people what they didn’t know they wanted, proving the pro-Labour Daily Mirror’s hold on the working class is baseless and paving the way for things like Brexit and a Prime Minister Thatcher. 

“Ink” at Round House closes soon. See it if you can.

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