Bay Area Reporter
Copyright © 2006 Bay Area Reporter, a division of Benro Enterprises, Inc.

Jock Talk:
I'm Bart Simpson — who the hell are you?

The first sports column I ever wrote was a self-mocking first-person piece titled "To Be Young, Gifted and Short." It was an offbeat item for the college newspaper, a sharp contrast to my usual investigative news stories and serious editorials.

Writing it was a change of pace. When I was asked to run the sports department of the newspaper my final full year on the paper, I had nipped that proposal in the bud. I recognized it for what it was — a career death sentence that would prevent me from ever being mistaken for a "serious" journalist.

I just wanted to write — to report stories and not starve to death in the process.

That was in the mid-1970s, when Watergate was spawning unprecedented droves of journalism students, every aspirant competing to be the next Woodward or Bernstein. There wasn't much money in it — never has been — but there was a certain amount of glory to be had in the raking of muck. And if you wanted a shot at it, you had to make sure you weren't relegated to sports.

In the newspaper world, the sports department was known as the "toy department": a good place to sign up for the company softball team or get in the annual March Madness office pool, but never properly appreciated for meeting the toughest daily deadlines in the business and turning out some of the most creative writing.

News journalism is addictive in that it gives you the opportunity to walk into people's lives at the most dramatic moments — and have them open their hearts and minds for you to share. What you write can become part of the "communal fabric."

But here's the thing: I attribute every success I have ever had in life to what I learned early in sports: self-confidence, and a secure belief in the value of my efforts. So during my early days in the news biz, I kept grabbing occasional assignments in sports and eventually realized that what I was able to write about there more often than not matched my sensibility about what should be part of that communal fabric.

Success and failure, redemption and validation, persistence and payback. Unburdened by bureaucratic babble or political posturing, they are all revealed in Rorschach blots of blood and sweat.

Thirty-odd years later (some much odder than others), I take sports journalism very seriously. Writing and editing for mainstream newspapers from Alaska to New York, I have been able to witness some of the greatest sports events of our times and meet some of the most compelling bone-crushing characters ever to break a sweat.

For the better part of two decades, I covered major sports events from the World Cup to the World Series. I've been to the Olympics and to the Super Bowl. Covering sports in the spotlight was dazzling and fun, but the compelling quiet moments took place under the microscope, going into prison to talk with murderers about what sports participation meant in their lives and talking with a woman about what it was like to lose friends while scaling the slopes of Mt. Everest.

I came out professionally in 1982 while I was sports editor of the Anchorage Daily News and a volunteer assistant wrestling coach at six local high schools. I was the only openly out sports editor at a major U.S. daily. Since then I have written or edited sports for newspapers in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Albany, New York. My 1987 series on "Death and Disability in Football" was nominated for a Pulitzer. I wrote the cover story for the Advocate on Magic Johnson after he underwent his early HIV awareness training.

LGBT sports coverage (what little there is of it) in general and the Bay Area Reporter in particular have been damned and blessed with a fine heritage of participatory journalists: sports writing by sports participants. I am just the latest in that line and will do my best to maximize the blessing and minimize the damnation.

Most of my background has been in mainstream sports, whether as a participant, fan, coach, or reporter. I hooked up with the LGBT sports community largely out of necessity in 2003, following surgery to replace both of my hips. Since I could no longer run, I wanted to return to the sport in which I first succeeded and never had to run: wrestling. Golden Gate Wrestling Club, whose mission is to provide a safe competitive experience regardless of age or physical condition, was the only place for it.

In for a dime, in for a dollar

Since then I have become communications officer for the Federation of Gay Games and served on its board of directors for three years, have become chair of Wrestlers WithOut Borders, and have been a member of Team SF since 2003. I made my competitive return to the mat with a silver medal (for getting my ass trounced) at the 2004 USA Wrestling Far Western Championship, and last year won a gold medal at the Gay Games in Chicago. In 2005, I proposed and moderated a panel discussion on LGBT sports coverage for the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

The training shoes left by my friend and predecessor Jim Provenzano will be hard to fill, but I savor this opportunity. My life is dedicated to my partner Eduardo and my soul mates Bob and Gene. But this column is dedicated to the two sports figures who from afar did the most to make my sports writing career possible: David Kopay, whose book gave me the assurance that coming out in sports would be a positive step in my life; and Dr. Tom Waddell, whose vision and articulation convinced me that sports, queer or not, can change the world.