(This story was published in 2007).
By: Ross Forman
Robin Lee sells sports memorabilia at weekend trading card shows in Northern California. She's done it for the past 10 years, selling relics at up to 10 shows a year. Other dealers near Lee at the shows offer the latest and greatest of Michael Jordan, Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds and Joe Montana, among others.
Lee opts for Mia Hamm, Danica Patrick, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and the like.
Lee, you see, runs Girl-Jocks, a California-based company that claims, rightfully so, to be the No. 1 source for women’s sports memorabilia and collectibles. She also sells items via her website, girl-jocks.com, and is, well, “just one of the guys” at the shows.
“At every show I used to go to (as a sports fan and collector), there were tables and tables of men’s memorabilia – and absolutely nothing women-related,” said Lee, 46, who lives in Concord, Calif. “I’d ask the dealers if they had anything women-related but found very little. So, I decided to do what no one else was doing, take the path less traveled. I wanted to be the one dealer who has everything women-related.”
And she is. From WNBA goodies to items commemorating the U.S. National Soccer Team. From Martina Navratilova to Sue Bird. Anything and everything girl-jock-related. That includes autographed memorabilia, bobble heads, lithographs, photographs and multiple balls (basketball, soccer and tennis, to name a few).
Oh, yeah, Lee is a lesbian, shining in the straight-, male-dominated industry of sports memorabilia.
“The community of sports collectible dealers is relatively small; we’re like a little community and everyone knows everyone,” said Lee, whose full-time job is as a shift supervisor for an airline communication company. “I’m really no competition for the guys, for the male dealers, because the vast majority of what they sell is of guys. When they have customers asking for women’s stuff, they refer them to me.”
Lee is a sports junkie – watching, reading and, of course, playing. At Independence High School in San Jose in the mid-1970s, she played volleyball, soccer and softball. She never went to college, instead opting to enlist in the U.S. Navy, where she stayed for 10 years until she left on her own terms in January, 1989.
She has always kept sports in her blood – and her next softball season starts in early-April. Lee plays infield, often at third base, for a co-ed team called the Poi Dawgs. She claims to be solid defensively, better than her offense. Lee’s partner of 14 years, Alexia Lucero, is an outfielder on the team.
“Girl-Jocks is not just about sports memorabilia and collectibles; it’s about empowering women, the belief that you can do anything you want, anything that you put your mind to,” said Lee, whose sporting hero is former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana.
Girl-Jocks started in February of 2001, and today the company boasts more than $10,000 worth of women’s relics, such as Martina Navratilova lithographs and Lisa Leslie-signed basketballs.
“I feel no pressure at all, because my niche is so different from everyone else. So I’m not really competing with other dealers for potential buyers. I’m really no competition for the majority of the show dealers because I deal on a very limited basis in men’s memorabilia,” she said.
Lee offers relics featuring all of the sporting world’s top females: Lisa Leslie, Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain. Diane Taurasi, Sue Bird, Lisa Fernandez, Jenny Finch, Michelle Wie, Lalai Ali and Annika Sorenstam, among others.
Lee said about 60 percent of her overall sales are to females, and about 10 percent of her annual sales come from the LGBT community.
“I love sports; I love sports memorabilia. That’s why I do this, why I do these shows. They’re fun and I’m a collector too,” Lee said.
Getting to know
It’s a Fact:
Her ex-partner’s daughter, Steffany, played softball in the Gay Games in Chicago last summer. Lee did not attend the Games due to work restrictions, though she is considering playing in the 2007 Gay World Series in Phoenix.
It’s Also a Fact:
She lived in Hawaii for about nine years.
"I never thought I’d turn my passion into my profession. If you can actually make a living, or even just a partial living, doing what you love to do, that’s the best thing ever. That’s like having the ice cream, whipped cream and cherry.”
Prized Personal Piece of Memorabilia
A baseball and baseball bat signed by 37 members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, plus three actresses who appeared in the movie, ‘A League of Their Own.’
More Personal Memorabilia
She has an authentic, team-signed San Jose CyberRays jersey after they won the inaugural Founders Cup in 2001.
On Mia Hamm
“Mia Hamm (memorabilia) appeals to all sports fans; she’s really universal. Two years after retiring, she’s still one of the most popular sellers.”
On Sheryl Swoopes
“Sheryl has a lot of products (for sale), such as jerseys and basketballs. She’s never been the top seller, but always near the top, always a good, strong seller.
On being a lesbian
“I’m proud to be a lesbian, and just proud to be a woman doing what I’m doing. Especially because what I’m doing is something that’s a passion of mine. In my opinion, (being a lesbian) doesn’t really come into play; I don’t really think about it (at shows), and don’t think others do either.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
“I hope they get rid of (that law), and think they’re going to have to, eventually, because they’re getting pretty slim. Since they are spread so thin, I still don’t know how (the U.S. military) can be so high and mighty, and just not accept people who can do the job. The rest of the world is doing so; why not our military?” Lee was in the Navy from from 1978-89. She was investigated four times for being a lesbian, but nothing was ever proven and she left the Navy on her own terms.
She’s a Bag-Lady, Too
Lee also is a distributor for Ultimate Sports Bags, carry-all sports bags designed by ballplayers for ballplayers. The bags, available in 10 colors, have numerous pockets and special features. For more information on Lee’s bags or her vast array of sports memorabilia, go to: www.Girl-Jocks.com.