(This story was published in 2006).

By: Jalen Finney

“Here’s to the day when a kid can be honest with himself and the world from the moment he conceives of himself as a lover of men, and be afforded the exact same chance as every other kid to have a successful career in professional basketball, football or baseball, without one single atom wasted, harassing him for being who he is.”

So goes the ambitious dream of Outsports columnist Randy Boyd. It’s a dream the author shares in his fourth novel, Walt Loves the Bearcat, the story of the first superstar athlete to admit his love for another man while in the prime of his pro football career. The 700 page epic was recently named a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, making Boyd a five-time nominee.

“So far, I’ve survived living with AIDS for over 20 years,” says Boyd. “I didn’t accomplish this by dwelling on the worst case scenarios for my life. I survived by dreaming the better dream, by imagining better and best case scenarios.” According to Boyd, this same kind of “dreaming the better dream” is the key to equality for all in the sports world. “Often times, when a hetero athlete discusses his thoughts about openly homosexual athletes, he envisions a worst-case scenario. Walt Loves the Bearcat offers a better dream and better frame of mind for everyone involved. Life doesn’t have to be your worst nightmares come true. Why not make life your best dreams come true?”

Walt and his Bearcat start out as a college quarterback and cheerleader from separate schools, and eventually become the “Mr. and Mr. Jackie Robinson of sexual sports history.” Along the way, they meet fantastical characters like Hail Larry, Evil Announcer Guy and the Emergency Wife. On the animated book cover, there’s an image of a flying football stadium, but the author flashes a childlike grin before refusing to divulge any big plot secrets.

“It’s all about fun and games and using your imagination,” says Boyd. Despite the fantastical adventures, there’s also plenty of serious consideration to the topics of homophobia in sports, racism and living with AIDS. “They’re all intertwined because these are the things that have touched my soul deeply, and making it this far in life, dealing with being a black man with AIDS—it’s all required me to use my most powerful tool, my imagination, and dream the better dream, or at least try. Hopefully, as a result, these whacky Bearcats provide a fun, adventurous story that both entertains and enlightens, just like the best things in life.”