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Out behind the scenes in pro sports

Managers, umps and more enjoy life after the closet in sports

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gay umpire, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photos courtesy of the subjects)

When professional athletes and coaches come out as LGBT, their stories make international headlines, but what many sports fans don’t realize is that it isn’t just players and coaches making waves of progress in the sports world. Those working behind the scenes and on the sidelines for some of the world’s favorite sports and teams are inspiring others with their coming-out stories.

David Baggs, senior manager and creator of the Red Sox Sales Academy

David Baggs

David Baggs

David Baggs thought being gay and working in sports was impossible. This summer, inspired by a talk Billy Bean gave to the Red Sox, Baggs realized he was wrong.

Baggs, 41, has worked in sports for 11 years, managing sales for teams like the L.A. Dodgers, Tampa Bay Rays, 49ers and now the Boston Red Sox. He’s been out to his family and friends since the start of his career, but just came out professionally.

“I’m looking around the room to my colleagues who I’m not out to yet, and people are tearin’ up and they’re visually moved,” Baggs recalls of Bean’s talk. “He’s kinda funny about it, but it’s also very moving. That week I decided to send a video to our president basically coming out to him.”

On June 2, Baggs published a letter in Outsports coming out publicly in an effort to inspire other LGBT community members within the sports world.

“I tried to keep my personal life to myself and felt like I couldn’t share that with my colleagues. That’s now a ridiculous idea,” Baggs says. “Don’t expect anyone to be authentic with you if you don’t share anything with them. If I were to go back, I’d say get it over with. You’ll blossom as a professional because you’re not worrying about what other people think. You can just tell them what you’re doing after work instead of making up some stupid story.”

Baggs says he has encountered overwhelmingly positive reaction since coming out, receiving supportive notes and Facebook posts from former colleagues, former Legends boss and current San Francisco 49ers President Al Guido, the Legends/Levi Stadium staff and the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I’m thankful for everywhere I’ve worked, but the Red Sox provided the support which eventually made me comfortable enough to come out,” Baggs says. “I think it is important that within the sports world there are leaders who are willing to stand up for their employees, colleagues, fans and be supportive within their communities for LGBTQ issues. If you are in a position to potentially move the conversation forward you’re basically obliged to do it within the sports world.”

Sophie Cook, Bournemouth football photographer (UK), Brighton News LGBT TV correspondent

Sophie Cook

Sophie Cook

As Sophie Cook, 49, stood in the pitch while her team, AFC Bournmouth was promoted to the Premier League and crowned football league champions, she was terrified. For her and the players showering her in Champagne, this was the greatest day in the history of their club, a day they had waited for all their lives. But it might also be the last time Cook worked as a football photographer. Over the summer she planned to tell the team she no longer wanted to be called Steve.

Cook, a single parent of three from Brighton, England, started out as a shirt sponsor for a semi-pro football team. Realizing she’d only get good pictures of the shirts if she took them herself, Cook became the team’s photographer. After taking their pictures for eight seasons, Cook switched to the pro game with AFC Bournemouth. In July, 2015 she stood in front of the newly promoted team and came out as the first trans person to work in the Premier League.

In a phone call before the meeting, the other line went silent, but the manager of the club assured Cook she still had a job.

“How can I make this easier for you,” manager Eddie Howe asked. Cook replied that she’d need to meet with the team.

“He can never be expected to understand what I was going through, but just by asking, ‘What can I do to make this easier for you?’ That’s all you can ask of someone when you come out,” Cook says.

Howe stood in front of the team with Cook and re-introduced her.

“You’ll probably notice our photographer has changed a little from last season, lost a bit of weight, and grown her hair out a bit,” Howe said. “I’d like you all to meet Sophie.”

Captain Tommy Elphick started clapping and the rest of the team quickly joined in.

“Well let’s go train!” Elphick said. And that was it. “I was expecting rainbows and things to come flying out of the sky, but they got the new information and it really wasn’t a big deal,” Cook says. “It was all dealt with really nicely. It feels amazing to be part of the history of a club that I love.”

Cook is now the first European news anchor as an LGBT consultant for Brighton’s Latest TV.

“It’s a great experience and for me the most amazing part of that is that I’m in the center of the LGBT community in the most diverse city in all of the U.K.,” Cook says. “Twenty-five percent of the population in Brighton is LGBT and my boss wants me to make 25 percent of the programming LGBT, which is a very important thing. This weekend we have Brighton Pride and to be out on the streets reporting on it, interviewing people and trying to bring that diversity to people’s TV screens is such an honor and something I’m very excited about for in the future.”

Dale Scott, MLB umpire

After 31 seasons of umpiring for the MLB, working three World Series, three All-Star games and numerous divisional and league championship series, Dale Scott never thought coming out would be one of the biggest moments of his career.

When Referee Magazine editors asked him to send pictures for their 2014 story on him, Scott didn’t think twice about the picture he chose of him and his partner, Michael Rausche. After all, he and Rausch had been together for 28 years, and Scott had been out quietly to friends, family and a few co-workers for his whole career. What Scott didn’t realize was how big of an impact he made by coming out publicly.

Scott’s coming out was even joked about on “Late Night” by Jimmy Fallon. He began receiving congratulations on the field and over emails, texts and even international calls.

“It has truly been a very uplifting and positive experience,” Scott says.

In 2010, Scott was able to add Rausch as his domestic partner in his new umpires union contract, making their relationship official in the MLB.

“The first 10 years of my Major League umpire career, I would have been horrified if a story had come out that I was gay,” he told Outsports. “At first I was uncomfortable because I had spent my whole life hiding that fact from people even though I wasn’t hiding it from myself or my friends.”

Like Baggs, Scott credits the ease of his coming out to MLB vice president Billy Bean.

“He is someone who has opened the door in all of baseball at both the major and minor league levels and I’m very proud to call him a friend,” Scott says.

Scott and Rausche celebrate 30 years together this October.

Stephanie Shostak, Volleyball Alberta president

Stephanie Shostak

Stephanie Shostak

Halfway through her referee certification process in 2013, Canadian Stephanie Shostak considered hanging up her whistle. She knew there had never been anyone like her in her field.

At 41, Shostak would be the first high-level referee to ever come out as transgender.

“I didn’t know how anyone would take it,” Shostak says. “I didn’t know what the response would be from Volleyball Canada or U.S. Volleyball. I knew of other athletes that came out gay, lesbian or bisexual, same with coaches and refs, but I’d never encountered anyone being transgender. It played into my decision but I loved the sport so much that I couldn’t walk away from it.”

That summer, Shostak sent a memorandum coming out to Volleyball Canada and U.S. Volleyball. After receiving support from both organizations and being re-elected as VAO president, Shostak decided to write an article coming out to the public this past April.

“I thought it would be worthwhile to do the article if I could just help one individual,” Shostak says.

Since then she’s helped many trans people, making sure they all know someone like them.

After Shostak refereed a national championship in Canada this year, she met two parents who said they saw her article and wanted to introduce her to their daughter, who is also transgender. Shostak recognized the young woman from the court of the team she just refereed.

The girl asked her parents, “Why are you talking to the ref?”

They told her, “This is Stephanie, who you read about in the article last week.”

The girl’s eyes lit up and she started to cry, hugging Shostak and saying thank you.

“It’s impacts like that I totally didn’t expect,” Shostak says. “There’s a lot of negativity regarding transgender people in the U.S. and occasionally in Canada, so I just wanted to share some positivity.”

Steve Reed, Washington Nationals director of human resources

Billy Bean and Steve Reed

Billy Bean and Steve Reed

Two-and-a-half years ago, Steve Reed left his hometown of Kansas City, Mo., to run the human resources department of the Washington Nationals. The now 49-year-old wasted no time letting co-workers know who he is, asking his boss if he could bring his then boyfriend to an office party.

The Nationals welcomed Reed and invited his boyfriend to the party.

Now single, Reed has been comfortable being out personally and professionally for the last 10 years, but doesn’t think labels are always necessary.

“People shouldn’t be classified as either gay/straight or any other category that society wants to assign,” Reed says. “People should be judged for who they are as individuals. Those labels are not the total summation of who a person is.”

Like Scott and Baggs, Reed also draws inspiration from his friendship with MLB Vice President Billy Bean, but he’s also developed relationships with other LGBT colleagues and members of the sports world. Now in his third season with the Nationals, he’s making sure 1,700 other employees are comfortable in their jobs too.

“I love the people,” Reed says. “Whereas our employees are there to ensure the guest has a great experience, my job is to make sure the employees have a great experience. We have a great staff and I am lucky to work with such a great team.”

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Washington Football Team embraces Pride Night Out

‘Football is for everyone’

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The first-ever Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team is set for Thursday.

Team DC launched its ‘Night OUT’ series in 2005 as an LGBTQ community night with the Washington Nationals. 

Over the years, they added events with other local professional sports teams – DC United, Washington Mystics, Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, Washington Kastles, Washington Spirit, Old Glory DC, Washington Prodigy and Citi Open.

On Thursday, Sept. 16, Team DC will host the first annual Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team marking their first partnership with the National Football League.

“We had tried reaching out in the past but eventually made the decision that we would not engage until the name was changed,” says Brent Minor, founder and executive director of Team DC. “We don’t want these community nights to just be a monetary transaction, we want to build bridges and encourage inclusion.”

This week’s game is the Washington Football Team’s Week 2 matchup against the New York Giants and will be televised on Thursday Night Football. 

Along with Pride Night OUT, it will also be a celebration of Latinx Heritage Month and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, who was a pioneer and trailblazer for equality and civil rights during his years with the team as a player and executive.

Frontline workers from the LGBTQ community including Whitman-Walker Health, Food & Friends and medical providers will be recognized and there will be a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s gospel ensemble of ‘Lift Every Voice.’

The new relationship with the Washington Football Team began when they reached out to Capital Pride and Team DC with a request for a cultural competency training for WFT staffers.

“We spoke with about 75 members of their staff, and it wasn’t just a window dressing exercise — people were engaged,” Minor says. “During the training, Night OUT came up, which led to a discussion on corporate perspective regarding the LGBTQ community.”

Another cultural competency training is expected to occur in the future and the Washington Football Team has pledged to have a yet to be determined role at Capital Pride in 2022.

In August 2020, former NFL player Jason Wright was hired by the Washington Football Team to become their team president, where he leads their business operations, financing, and marketing strategies. 

“We went through a leadership change when Jason Wright was hired and the direction of our outreach will be much broader than it was in the past,” says Joey Colby-Begovich, vice president of guest experience, operations for the Washington Football Team. “We want to be intentional in celebrating our communities beyond the traditional football fans and that includes people of color and marginalized communities. Football is for everyone.”

The DMV region is comprised of a broad spectrum of people who represent the changing demographics of our country. Establishing connections to communities where people from different backgrounds and sexual orientations can find commonality is important for any organization interested in social responsibility.

“We are hoping that we can cultivate a broader fan base that feels safe and comfortable in our space. That includes stronger and deeper relationships with our communities and opportunities in our employee base — we want to be involved in the discussion,” Colby-Begovich says. “The support that we shared for Carl Nassib coming out is an example of our direction. There is change happening.”

The excitement is palpable from the D.C. LGBTQ community as more than 100 tickets have already been sold for the inaugural Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team.

“I think back to the beginning when we first established a relationship with the Washington Nationals. Years later after the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando, they reached out and asked, ‘What can we do,’” says Minor. “Establishing these relationships is important and who knows where this leads when you are embraced in a positive way? When you can break down a barrier between the LGBTQ community and the NFL, that’s rarefied air.”

Tickets for Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team can be found at teamdc.org.

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If a nation? ‘Team LGBTQ’ ranked 11th in medal tally at Tokyo Olympics

182 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes were in Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games

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Los Angeles Blade Graphic

TOKYO – Delayed by the coronavirus pandemic by one year and then held under tight restrictions including no spectators or cheering fans in the stands, the Tokyo Olympics drew to a close Sunday with one group of athletes, LGBTQ+ Olympian competitors, having made historic gains.

Affectionately labeled “Team LGBTQ” by OutSports magazine, at least 182 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes were in Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games, more than triple the number who participated at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games, the magazine reported.

“In fact, if the LGBTQ Olympians competed as their own country — affectionately labeled “Team LGBTQ” by Outsports — they would rank 11thin the total medal count (right behind France and before Canada), with 32 team and individual medals: 11 gold, 12 silver and nine bronze,” reflected NBC Out.

30 different countries were represented by at least one publicly out LGBTQ+ athlete covering 34 sports, including the first trans Olympians, Team New Zealand’s weightlifter, Team USA’s Reserve BMX racer Chelsea Wolfe, and Team Canada’s Quinn, the 25-year-old, soccer player who goes by a single name and uses the pronouns “they” and “their.”

The most notable Olympic medal win was that of Canadian Women’s Soccer midfielder Quinn, who became the first openly transgender, non-binary athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in another trailblazing moment at the Tokyo Games for the marginalised LGBTQ+ community.

Photo via Instagram

In another Olympic triumph, 27-year-old British diver Tom Daley secured his first Olympic Gold medal alongside teammate Matty Lee winning the gold with a score of 471.81 in the men’s synchronized diving narrowly besting the defending champions, China’s Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen by just 1.23 points. For Daley it was his fourth career Olympic medal including a Bronze Medal won in the the Men’s 10m platform completion at Tokyo as well.

Outsports and NBC Out published the following list of medalists;

The gold medalists were Brazilian swimmer Ana Marcela Cunha for the 10-kilometer event; French martial artist Amandine Buchard for mixed team judo; Venezuelan track and field athlete Yulimar Rojas for the triple jump; Irish boxer Kellie Harrington; New Zealand rower Emma Twigg; U.S. women’s basketball team members Sue Bird, Chelsea Gray, Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi; American 3-on-3 basketball player Stefanie Dolson; Canadian women’s soccer team members Quinn, Kadeisha Buchanan, Erin McLeod, Kailen Sheridan and Stephanie Labbe; French handball players Amandine Leynaud and Alexandra Lacrabère; New Zealand rugby players Gayle Broughton, Ruby Tui, Kelly Brazier and Portia Woodman; and, of course, British diver Tom Daley, who finally took home the gold for synchronized diving at his fourth Games.

NBC Out’s Dan Avery noted that after she earned silver for the Philippines, featherweight boxer Nesthy Petecio told reporters, “I am proud to be part of the LGBTQ community,” according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer

“Let’s go, fight!” she added. “This fight is also for the LGBTQ community.”

“The presence and performance of these out athletes has been a huge story at these Games,” Outsports founder Cyd Zeigler told NBC Out in an email. “30% of all the out LGBTQ Olympians in Tokyo won a medal, which means they didn’t just show up, they also performed at a very high level.”

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Out British diver Tom Daley takes Bronze medal in men’s 10m platform

“I owe this medal to so many people. I’m standing on the podium but there are so many people behind the medal.”

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British Olympic Diver Tom Daley wins Bronze via Team Great Britain Twitter

KASAI RINKAI PARK, Tokyo- After tough competition in the Men’s 10m platform diving from China’s Cao Yuan who picked up the Gold Medal and his teammate Yang Jian cinching the number two spot with a Silver Medal, 27-year-old British diver Tom Daley secured a Bronze Medal win with a score of 548.25

This is the second Olympic Bronze Medal for the Plymouth, England native, in individual diving completion since he won bronze at the London Games in 2012. Daley and his teammate Daniel Goodfellow won a Bronze Medal in the 10m synchronised at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

With this Bronze win, it will be his fourth overall career Olympic Games medal win after taking the Gold two weeks ago in the Tokyo games along with his British teammate diving partner Matty Lee. Daley and Lee winning the gold with a score of 471.81 in the men’s synchronized diving narrowly besting the defending champions, China’s Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen by just 1.23 points.

During a post event press conference Daley said; “I am so happy that this Olympics has gone the way it has. I feel like a different athlete, I feel like I’ve been through so many different things over the years.”

“At the end of May, I didn’t even know if I was going to make it to these Games. I tore my meniscus and had knee surgery, I always dreamed I’d be fit enough to come back and dive at these Olympics,” he continued adding, “If someone had told me I was going to win a gold and a bronze, I probably would have laughed in their face. I owe this medal to so many people. I’m standing on the podium but there are so many people behind the medal.”

Reflecting on his medal win the diver noted, “Once you’re in the final, that’s what I love. I love competition when it counts, there was great competition with the two Chinese divers, they pulled away when I missed it a little bit on the fourth dive,” the apparently thrilled Daley smiled and added, “I’m extremely happy to come away with another Olympic medal.”

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