For the life of me, I cannot recall exactly how or when I discovered Outsports. I reckon it happened in one of two ways.
I bought my first computer in 1997 and, like many naive fools at the time, scared of complex modern technology but wanting to be on the World Wide Web, I signed up with America Online. Naturally, I spent time in AOL's chat rooms and message boards. Some time later I left AOL for MindSpring. (MindSpring? Holy crap, how freaking old am I???) Looking for similar chat rooms and message boards, I discovered Yahoo Groups. I found LGBT groups there, including sports-themed groups. It was fine for a while, but I wanted something better. I imagine it was there that I found a link to Outsports.
Or maybe I just did a Google search for "gay sports."
Anyway, looking at old iterations of the Outsports home page on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine I found a link to screengrabs of the original Outsports Discussion Board! That is where the legend of Joe in Philly, Outsports' Most Prolific Poster, was born.
The screengrabs show who posted, when and the subject, but not actual posts. The first post with my name on it, which may or may not be my first post ever, was dated June 30, 2000, in response to a post about the Corey Johnson story (high school football player, openly gay -- long before Michael Sam) on ABC's 20/20.
Looking at the archived home pages, it's amazing to see just how much content Outsports had. Not just articles on gay-related sports issues, but stories and discussions about sports. The games, the teams, the leagues, the fans, the athletes -- and not just who's the hottest, either (not that there's anything wrong with that). There were pages devoted to specific sports. An archive of the NHL page shows almost-daily recaps of the 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs, including the Flyers' epic five-overtime win at Pittsburgh in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series. I'm not sure who was writing this, though, because one entry began, "The San Jose Sharks were two quarters away from..."
This was wonderful for me. Although I'm in a big city with a decent-sized gay community and gay sports leagues, I don't socialize easily in person. I'm not naturally outgoing and I'm not a bar person. So I wasn't very different from someone who lives in the middle of nowhere and has no gay community to join.
Outsports helped me in that regard. The back-and-forth on the board led to meeting a number of fellow Outsporters in person. There were two Outsports Conventions (2003 in Los Angeles, where I was stranded for a couple extra days by the President's Day storm that dumped nearly two feet of snow on Philadelphia, and the following year here in Philly, in May this time so snow wasn't a factor), which were absolutely extraordinary, as well as other gatherings people put together on their own. I met a lot of new friends over this time, and just for that I will always be grateful to Outsports.
The second version of the Discussion Board actually kept track of the number of times someone posted. That's how I became known as Outsports' Most Prolific Poster. Here's the thing: it was a discussion board. That means you discuss things. So I did! If you look at the raw number, whatever it was, it seemed like a lot. But it was really only a few posts per day, and the majority of my posts were replies to other people's threads. It's really similar to how I use Twitter now. On average I send about ten tweets per day, and Twitter counts retweets in their totals.
While that was going on, I also wrote the occasional article that Jim and Cyd were kind enough to post on the site. The first one was perhaps my favorite. It was in November 2002, shortly after Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb broke his ankle. Basically everyone panicked and felt the 7-3 Eagles' chances of even getting back into the playoffs, let alone winning the NFC East, were doomed. I explained that backup Koy Detmer, although no McNabb, could do an adequate job as long as the offensive line provided him with protection.
I also compared the schedules of the Eagles and the 6-4 New York Giants, leading up to their season-ending showdown at the Meadowlands. Even with a Monday night game at 7-3 San Francisco up next, I painted a scenario in which the Eagles would go 3-2 and end up at 10-5, still mathematically alive for the NFC East title going into that final game even if the Giants swept their five games to get to 11-4.
My scenario was wrong. In that game at San Francisco, Detmer ended up dislocating his elbow, ending his season, but not before he had the game of his life, leading the Eagles to a 38-17 thrashing of the 49ers. Third-stringer A.J. Feeley won the four games after that, as the Eagles clinched the division two weeks before the Giants game.
For a while I also contributed regularly to the Jock Talk Blog. I'm really proud of some of those posts, and it inspired me to take another shot at a blog of my own (which I'm not so proud of lately, but we won't get into that here).
So here we are, 15 years later. Our society is so different now. We've made so much progress on LGBT issues. That's part of the reason there's been a proliferation of out athletes at all levels. I think some of the credit for that also has to go to Outsports. As the site grew and became known as the go-to site for gay sports, more and more athletes told their coming-out stories to Outsports.
Outsports itself is different as well. The site is now much more focused on LGBT sports issues than on the games themselves. Again, part of that is because there's so many more newsworthy gay sports items. So many athletes, coaches, etc. coming out. Teams, schools and leagues becoming more diverse and supportive. Organizations such as the You Can Play project.
And, of course, there's the affiliation with SB Nation. There's no longer a separate discussion board. That doesn't really matter to me, because I left the previous board some time ago. It evolved into something I had no interest in. I still visit the site daily. I occasionally comment on an article, but I usually don't follow up or read the other comments.
Things change. Change is a part of life. (Insert your favorite cliche here.) But no matter the format, when a young kid (or someone who's young at heart) who's into sports and is also gay, or any variation on the societal norms for gender and sexuality, if that kid needs information or encouragement or support, or just to know they're not alone, it's good to know Outsports is there.