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'Shirts & Skins' creator previews his upcoming show

Series on Logo will follow gay basketball team the Rock Dogs as they chase a championship

By Cyd Zeigler jr.

Bill Kendall has been a good friend of Outsports for many years. I first met him heading to a Stanford-USC game about a decade ago. I found him them, as I do today, to be a unique spirit with a ton of depth to his character and a lot to say.

When he first told us about his Rock Dogs show a couple years ago, he was trying to find a home. He had been a Rock Dog for several years, starting around 2000 and leading up to their gold-medal performance at the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago, after which he retired from the team. He went to several networks and eventually landed it at Logo, who ordered six episodes that were taped this past spring in San Francisco and Chicago. The show will premiere on Logo Sept. 15.

Bill was kind enough to chat with us about his thoughts, plans and hopes for the upcoming show.

Outsports: What was your goal in developing the show?
Bill Kendall: The goal was to faithfully tell the three-generation Rock Dog story. What attracted me to the story was seeing guys from their early 20s to 40s and 50s, who had created sort of a surrogate family, with uncles and brothers and sons. They came together for love of basketball and they stayed together to help each other become those family roles. And I had never seen anything like that growing up. For me, as a Rock Dog through the ’06 Gay Games, it provided me with a lot of insight that it was okay to grow up gay and be an athlete.

OS: Why is the show called Shirts & Skins?
Bill: It’s an old-school sports term that brings up images of basketball that has survived into the new school. Of the many titles that were possible, that was the one that was chosen, as it was most representative of a basketball team that is multigenerational, multicultural, old-school, and new-school. I relate to it as a basketball term. The way audiences may relate to it, or the fact that some of the guys are comfortable not wearing their shirts on a basketball court, those are things I can’t speak to.

OS: Six guys are featured. How did you pick them?

Bill: It was a combination of several things. First, it was the network and the executive producers getting to know the guys and their stories. The second was the players who most prominently feature in the current multicultural generation of the Rock Dogs. And the third was that we asked the guys if they were interested in participating in the show. Some of these guys have full-time jobs or they live out of town. We really wanted to first give the opportunity to the current roster of Rock Dogs who helped win the gold. There were some guys who wanted to be part of the main cast, and some who wouldn’t or couldn’t.

OS: Do you think the show breaks stereotypes, and is that one of your hopes in created the show?
Bill: Definitely. These guys have all been through a lot. They’re survivors. They’re street-smart. You could put them in any format and their truth would show through. So I trusted that. This started out as an independent feature project, and their stories are bigger than what I could fit into in a feature. I’m interested in how those stories evolve over time, especially with the new generation of athlete who comes out younger and doesn’t put themselves in a box. I believe each one of these guys is stereotype-busting in their own unique way. And the fact that they all come together and represent the full gamut of cultures and ages and jobs and politics, I think that’s interesting. So yes, I wanted to bust stereotypes because I think one of the last ceilings is in competitive sports. It’s something that Outsports does very well as well: break down those barriers.


OS: One of the things that grabbed me the most from the first episode was a conversation about Jamel’s sexuality and his feeling that being gay for him was a choice, and the anger that his teammates voiced to him because of that opinion. What was your reaction to that?
Bill: In 22 minutes you really have to highlight things. What I can speak to is what I know of the Rock Dogs. Several of them have very rich spiritual lives and beliefs. From Rory to DeMarco to Chris, they were very much trying to understand, having not seen Jamel for three or four weeks, what had changed for him. When you know someone for a while and they come in and there is something new, like his decision that being gay is a choice, I think that surprised a lot of the guys who felt like they knew him well. So I think the discussion for them was really more about gay being a choice, and several of the guys voiced strong opinions disagreeing.


Bill: The primary intention was to challenge and bust stereotypes about gay male athletes. I don’t think any of the players are afraid to express themselves in whatever way is coming up for them as truth. And that’s one of the reasons I think they’re courageous, to get on a show and be themselves and speak their truth. If some people see that as stereotypical of certain groups, then I don’t think the Rock Dogs care, because they’re going to express who they are, and I think there’s something positive in that.

OS: Absolutely. You see people who are gay on TV sometimes try to suppress that part of themselves. To see Jamel being crazy in the shower and Rory being Beyonce, I like that. I like that part of gay sports. You’ve mentioned “the truth” several times. That’s obviously very important to you.
Bill: It is. I have felt a tremendous responsibility to present the truth of these guys and their experiences in a format that goes very fast. As I said before, you can stick the Rock Dogs anywhere, and my experience with them is, what you see is what you get, and they’re going to keep it real through the whole range of gay, straight and anything in between. And I’m thrilled we’re able to show that.

OS: Do you think a gay audience that isn’t interested in sports, or a straight audience, will gravitate toward the show?
Bill: Yeah. When I hang with the Rock Dogs, what impresses me is that people fall in love with them, whether that’s straight women who think they’re the shit and love their humor and their freedom and their authenticity and sensitivity, or it’s young open-minded straight guys who want to learn how to dance or learn how to speak to women, or who play them on the court and get beat and are impressed with their skills, my experience is that, because of their authenticity, they attract, regardless of gender and sexual preference, a whole wide range of people, and I’m hoping that happens with the show.

I think it has the potential to cross over to a straight audience. I think the show appeals to non-athletes and athletes alike. Basketball is the thing that brings them together, but it’s also the springboard to other things like living authentically, coming together as family, the power you have as a group when you’re speaking your truth and not bullshitting about your sexuality or things that you love or your relationships. That’s powerful. I think there are universal truths in those stories. OS: I think Outsports both breaks and reinforces stereotypes. We point out fashion, we’re not afraid of getting “girly,” we’re not afraid of using humor in a very sexual way, and I think those are stereotypes that we’re not afraid of, while at the same time being very out front in sports. Do you think the show reinforces stereotypes while at the same time breaking some?