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Couples that play together, stay together

Meet locals who mix love and sport

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LGBT sports couples, gay news, Washington Blade

Brigid Beech and Sharifa Love met while playing for the Furies. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

There are a lot of clichés about relationships that people either embrace or avoid.

Love is blind. Opposites attract. It was love at first sight.

What about ‘couples who play together, stay together’?

Meet two LGBT sports couples from D.C. who are carving their own path together by including sports in their relationships.

When Sharifa Love was attending Yale, her roommates were all rugby players and they repeatedly asked her to join their team. Love was busy with other sports and just brushed it aside. It wasn’t until the end of her senior year that they convinced her to come to a rugby practice because they were short a player for an upcoming tournament.

“During a tackle at that first practice, the other girl ended up bleeding and crying,” says Love. “I turned to my new teammates and said, ‘This is the best, I’ll be back.’”

Growing up in Rockville, Love played soccer all the way through high school along with running track. While attending Yale, she ran track for two years and then turned her focus on intramural sports such as squash and ice hockey.

The rugby experience stayed with her after the first tournament and when she returned to the D.C. area after graduation, she looked up adult rugby and joined the DC Furies in 2009.

“I love the physicality and the strategic aspect of the game. Most of my improvement has come from becoming more familiar with tactics,” Love says. “Plus, I just like hitting people; it’s a great outlet.”

Love, who is the development and communications coordinator at SMYAL, is enjoying her life as a rugger. She loves the community aspect and has played all over the country as part of the Women’s Premier League. This November her team will travel to nationals in Phoenix, Ariz.

In 2013, she began dating one of her teammates, Brigid Beech. They had been playing together for the Furies for four years.

Beech arrived in D.C. in 2005 for a job with IBM, consulting with federal clients. It was her first job out of college and as the years passed, she found herself in a rut.

“My life was terrible and I was hating everything,” says Beech. “It finally hit me that I hadn’t played sports in three years, so in 2009 I joined the Furies.”

Born in Ireland, Beech was raised in West Newbury, Mass., and in her first year of high school, she played soccer, basketball and softball. She transferred to a boarding school and changed things up by switching to cross country, ice hockey and lacrosse.

“I really enjoy the culture of team sports,” Beech says. “I have always been the ‘class clown’ and that sense of belonging is important.”

Beech took a gap year and played soccer with a team in Germany while being a part of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange. During her four years at Bates College, she played rugby and captained in her senior year.

Just one year after she started dating Love, Beech would leave the Furies and return to ice hockey playing for the Washington Wolves.

“The level of play and amount of dedication required is very high in rugby,” says Beech. “Picking ice hockey back up is vital to my ability to remember that everything is not about work. I need a healthy outlet and a support system.”

Both women are now playing together again with Rogue Darts while they also maintain their separate sports.

Love said, “We had been friends all along on the Furies, and when we became a couple there was some awkwardness with the team at practices and scrimmages. We didn’t want to show up at practice and be ‘that’ couple.”

Beech replied, “I had dated other players on the team and there is a risk in introducing another layer into a safe space. It becomes high stakes. … It felt super competitive at the beginning. She is so fast and once I caught a piece of her jersey and tackled her out of bounds after the whistle blew. It wasn’t one of my finer moments. She was so pleased that she had gotten me riled up.”

While he was attending Pacific Lutheran University, Ken Kriese was interested in rowing but just couldn’t pull the trigger. He had a physical education requirement and ended up choosing aerobics instead of rowing. Kriese was a military brat growing up and none of the sports he tried, such as soccer and bowling, clicked with him. Born in Tehran, he grew up all over the place but considers Seattle home.

“I spent my junior year of college abroad in England and finally connected with rowing,” says Kriese. “I rowed at Pacific Lutheran for my senior year along with two years while completing my master’s at University of Minnesota.”

Following his doctorate work at the University of California, Davis and a short stint in Memphis, Kriese came to D.C. in 2007 where he works in migratory bird conservation for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He joined the DC Strokes Rowing Club shortly after arriving.

“Rowing is a natural fit for me because I like the team aspect. You row as a team, you race as a team, and you win as a team,” Kriese says. “DC Strokes has become my circle of friends and family. Because of what I do for a living, it is also appealing to me to be out on the water.”

While he was serving as president of the Strokes in 2015, Kriese met Jeffrey Gonzalez who was serving as the coordinator of the DC Front Runners. The Strokes volunteered at Pride Run 5K and the Front Runners volunteered at Stonewall Regatta. Numbers were exchanged.

Gonzalez moved to the area in 2007 and saw the Front Runners at the Capital Pride parade. He joined the group and has since completed 19 marathons in locations around the world.

His father was in the military and after being born in Colorado, Gonzalez grew up in Fayetteville, N.C., where he didn’t play any sports.

“I was an overweight kid and I started running in the 9th grade and lost a bunch of weight,’ says Gonzalez. “I stuck with running on my own, and ran my first marathon in my senior year of high school.”

After earning degrees at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Michigan, Gonzalez works as a division chief at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and wrapped up his Ph.D. at the University of Maryland.

“I didn’t know anyone when I moved here and it has been great being a part of the Front Runners family,” Gonzalez says.

Kriese had completed a marathon before they met and together they have run marathons across the country. Kriese rowed at the USRowing Masters Nationals last week and both will be running at the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World in a few months.

“One of our first dates was a White House tour and we were in the Red Room when the same-sex marriage ruling came through,” said Gonzalez. “I decided to keep dating him even though he was wearing pleated pants.” Gonzalez added, “I am more of a solitary competitive person. He is very competitive. Sometimes I think we are just going out for a casual run, and then he goes balls out. It’s nice to have someone to get you out the door to train though I find myself being mad at him for both sides of that.”

Kriese replied, “Yes, I am a competitive person but I am competing against myself, not him. I have been told not to run faster than him, but I have. If one of us is feeling good, he can take off.”

LGBT sports couples, gay news, Washington Blade

Ken Kriese and Jeffrey Gonzalez met thanks to their shared love of running. (Photo by Shawn Lo)

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Celebrating sports history: DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season

Head of District’s premier league says it’s ‘groovin’ to its silver anniversary

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The DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season is underway. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What started when gay football fans got together in the 1990s to play their favorite sport is now a D.C. institution with 270 players in 20 teams spread over three fields, playing in both fall and spring. 

“Get off the bench,” shouts the slogan on the league’s website. “Get in the game!” 

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League turns 25 years old this month and is considered not only the premier league of its kind in the District, but is recognized across the country for its players, organization, and spirit.

“The way we run our league and the way we compete make us stand out relative to the rest,” DCGFFL Commissioner Logan Dawson told the Washington Blade. 

For those who don’t know flag football from any other kind, the difference is easy to spot: There’s no contact allowed. As the rules say, “That includes tackling, diving, blocking, and screening. Instead, players wear flags that hang along their sides by a belt. To ‘tackle’ the person in possession of the ball, the opposing team needs to pull one or both of their flags off.” There are a lot more rules, but that’s the one that really sets it apart from tackle football. 

The sport itself dates back to World War II and its origins have been traced to Fort Meade, Md. 

What’s the secret to the league’s longevity? “I think we attract and hold on to great athletes who are highly competitive, not only on the field, but also, in our professional and personal lives,” he said. Dawson, 32, plays flag football as well as manages the league. He’s currently single, but says his first love is the weather. 

“I knew in second grade that I wanted to be a meteorologist,” said Dawson, who moved to the District to be a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. 

A prolific swimmer since high school, he came out as he started grad school at Purdue University in Indiana in 2012. In an op-ed appearing in Outsports in 2014, Dawson wrote about competing in his first Gay Games in Cleveland along with a group of other gay swimmers from Colorado, and left that experience determined to join a gay sports league. 

He found it in the fall of 2018 in the DCGFFL, the same year the league’s Generals team won Gay Games XVIII. The league supports up to five travel teams, which take part in annual tournaments nationwide. It also hosts a summer tournament each year in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

“There’s a good amount of participation by people who played in the league from the very early days,” Dawson said. “I think we’re just in the sweet spot, where we have a lot of the original participants, a lot of new players, and we’re just kind of grooving right now.”

The first group gathered at Francis Field near Dupont Circle in 1994. Three years later, another group formed to play just steps from the Washington Monument Mall. They came together in 1998 to form what is now the DCGFFL. 

“For the majority of those seasons, we mainly had one division that played that was co-ed,” said Dawson. “This is our second season that we’ve had a Womens+ Division made up of [cisgender] women, trans and nonbinary individuals.” The Womens+ teams are called the Senators. 

Jayme Fuglesten is director of the Womens+ Division and has played in the league in most seasons since 2011.

“The DCGFFL has been a major part of my adult life,” she says. “I came out while playing in the league in no small part because of the love and support of this community.”

Why does she think the league has been such a success to have lasted 25 years?

“I think the league has been so successful because of its focus on inclusion and community,” she says. “I remember being so surprised in my early years when JJ and so many others would just come right up to me, hug me, and welcome me. And that really hasn’t changed in the 20+ seasons I’ve been around. It also continues to grow and respond to the needs and desires of our players. One example of that is the new Womens+ division, which gives an additional space for people who identify as womens+ to play and cultivate stronger relationships.”

DC Gay Flag Football plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Next month, the DCGFF will send both Generals and Senators to Gay Bowl XXIII in Seattle. “That’s going to be the first time we’re going to have two Womens+ teams at the Gay Bowl,” Dawson told the Blade. “It’s reflective of the new generation of the league.” 

Earlier generations had trouble attracting new players. As the Blade reported in 2019, what had been a steady number of 20 to 22 teams dropped dramatically to 14, its lowest roster since 2011. The league’s leadership turned it around with new recruiting events, new sponsors, changes in their social event locations, changes to their player draft and a change of venue for league play beyond Carter Barron fields in Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington. 

Brentwood Hamilton Park in Northeast Washington is now home to the recreation division and Randall Field south of the Capitol is the league’s third venue. 

Just like every facet of society, from coast to coast, what happened next hit the league hard. “COVID happened in spring of 2020,” recalled Dawson. “Everything shut down, and we did not play for what amounted to three full seasons for a year and a half.”

But once the world emerged from quarantine and lockdowns, flag football players started flocking to the DCGFFL. “We’ve had probably over 150 new players join our league in the last two years,” he said.

One thing is certain, said Dawson: Despite the name, not everyone who plays in the gay flag football league is LGBTQ+. 

“It’s a really great community. There’s a straight couple that’s married and will be soon having a child in the next month or so,” Dawson said. “They met playing in the league, just like we’ve had gay couples who meet in the league and eventually get married and have children.”

Prominent among the league’s many sponsors is the NFL hometown team, the Washington Commanders. “They are highly supportive of us, not just financially, but also publicly supporting what we are, and our mission,” Dawson said. 

This current NFL season is the first since 2021 without an out gay player on the gridiron. That’s when Carl Nassib became the first active pro football player to come out as gay. 

(Washington Blade file photo by Adam Hall)

While Dawson said, “I’m sure there are more out there” who have not yet come out, Nassib’s retirement makes this anniversary of the DCGFFL even more significant. 

“It’s unfortunate people still feel they cannot be out while they’re playing and doing what they love, but that’s the reason why something like the D.C. Gay Flag Football League is so important,” he said. “To show that there are gay and trans athletes who exist and love playing sports.”

The league plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23 starting at 8 p.m. Check the website for ticket information.

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Carl Nassib announces retirement

Openly gay NFL player made history when he came out in 2021

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(CBS News screenshot)

Carl Nassib, who made history in 2021 when he became the first active player in the National Football League to come out as gay, announced Wednesday he is retiring at age 30. 

“This is a bittersweet moment for me,” the free agent wrote in a post on Instagram. “But after seven seasons and just over 100 NFL games I am officially retiring from football to focus on my company Rayze.” 

Rayze is a mobile platform that connects people willing to give of themselves with those who need it most, born of an experience in Tampa, Fla., where Bucs players volunteered as mentors to kids being held in a nearby juvenile detention center. Rayze’s website says the company serves to “shine a light on opportunities that need volunteers, while making nonprofit engagement, volunteer recruitment and donating as simple and intuitive as possible.” 

“It really feels like just yesterday starting out as a walk-in at Penn State,” Nassib wrote in his post. “Football has given me more than I ever could have imagined. I can truly hang up my helmet for the last time knowing I gave it everything I had.” 

Ever since he came out in 2021, the former defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has become a philanthropist for the LGBTQ community, especially for queer youth, personally donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project. That year, the NFL matched his donation, and in 2022, Nassib himself matched donations dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

According to the Bucs, Nassib played in 99 regular-season NFL games with 38 starts,  recorded 187 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 45 tackles for loss, 59 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one interception and 19 passes defended. In 2016, he the Cleveland Browns drafted him with the second pick in the third round. At Penn State, Nassib was a star player, leading the nation in sacks and forced fumbles during his senior year with the Nittany Lions in 2015.

“It was not an easy decision. It really, really wasn’t,” Nassib told People magazine in an exclusive interview timed to coincide with his Instagram. 

“This would have been my 23rd football season. I’ve been playing football since I was eight years old, and I’m really excited to move on to the next chapter of my life,” he said. 

Nassib says he began considering retirement last season before becoming a free agent, when he said he was “staying at the Bucs facility until 9 p.m. every night working on Rayze.”

“I feel like it’s my calling and it’s what I’m meant to do,” Nassib says of the app. “I’m really excited to move on to the next chapter of my life and to give Rayze everything that I have.”

In July, he posted that he had accepted an appointment to the board of directors of the local United Way chapter in his hometown of West Chester, Pa. 

Nassib said he is also going to work with the NFL in a new role, in matters related to the league’s philanthropic endeavors and its “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

“I think that I can provide a very rare and specific view of how life is for an out gay player, and I think that there are some amazing opportunities that I can also learn,” he told People.

“Maintaining that relationship shows that the NFL is continuing to support me. They’ve supported me so much over the last two years, and I really couldn’t have done it without that support,” he said.

Nassib said the NFL’s offer to utilize him in this new role “continues to show people that you can be yourself and compete at the highest level.”

But what he’s most excited to do with his time now, he told People, is to spend the holiday season with his family and his boyfriend, retired Olympian Søren Dahl. 

“I’ve spent 11 out of 12 Christmases away from my family, many of them alone in my apartment,” said Nassib. “I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my family since 2010, so I am really, really looking forward to spending time with my family, my friends, and those special moments. And that’s something that I’ve been looking forward to for years.” 

That’s one of the many reasons why he wrote on Instagram: “I really feel like the luckiest guy on the planet.”

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Close out the summer with Team DC

United Night Out held at Audi Field

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A scene from last year’s United Night Out. (Washington Blade file photo by Kevin Majoros)

Team DC and Federal Triangles Soccer Club will host “United Night Out” on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

This event will celebrate the LGBTQ community and cheer on the Black-and-Red as they take on the Philadelphia Union.

Team DC is the association of LGBTQ sports clubs in the greater Washington region with 42 member clubs (including FTSC) with more than 7,000 participants. Team DC sponsors the Pride Night OUT Series, which helps organize Pride nights with all local pro teams. In 2023, Team DC will sponsor 14 different Pride nights, including the United Night OUT. 

Tickets are $30 and can be purchased on Team DC’s website

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