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This week’s LGBTQ sports winners and losers

From the L.A. Dodgers to anti-gay protesters in New Jersey, here’s our look back on the heroes and the goats of the past week.

Each week, Outsports stops the clock for an instant reply of the week that was. It’s our way of memorializing the glorious victories, the ignominious defeats, and the players and personalities who made them, lived them or just couldn’t avoid them.

We realize our roster may differ from yours, and we welcome your comments, contributions and critiques. We read them all! Details on how to reach us are below, after our look at this week’s winners and losers.

WINNERS: The L.A. Dodgers and their LGBTQ fans

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ LGBT Night, held Friday, May 31 to acknowledge, honor and support the LGBTQ community, drew the biggest crowd of fans for any Dodgers game since 2012 en route to selling a record number of tickets specifically for the LGBT Night package.

The Dodgers told Outsports that an estimated 12,000 fans attended the game specifically because it was the team’s LGBT Night. The team sold out of its LGBT Night ticket package and many LGBTQ fans bought regular game tickets to attend the game.

LGBT Night also drew the biggest crowd of any Major League Baseball game this season. Dodger Stadium has the largest capacity of any MLB stadium.

“I couldn’t be happier to make this event grow each and every year, but I am most proud of the Dodgers year-round relationship with the LGBTQ community,” said Dodgers Senior Vice-President Erik Braverman. “Sure, it is gratifying to bring everyone together to celebrate our pride at a Dodger game but I want fans to know that the Dodger organization values them and embraces them 365 days a year.”

Another way the team is committing to the LGBTQ community is the announcement of Billie Jean King Bobblehead night on Sept. 21, where the first 40,000 fans in attendance will receive a bobblehead of the LGBTQ icon and Dodgers part owner. They unveiled the bobblehead at LGBT Night.

Loser: Rabbi Yehuda Levin and his band of anti-gay protesters

Ultra-orthodox Jewish and Catholic protesters demonstrated outside First Energy Park in Lakewood, N.J., on Thursday, June 6, in opposition to Saturday’s Pride Night game being held by the Lakewood BlueClaws, the city’s Minor League Baseball team.

The Pride Night celebration at the park will include a giveaway of 1,500 caps embroidered with a rainbow BlueClaws logo.

According to Patch.com, ultra-orthodox Rabbi Yehuda Levin — “a rabbi from New York who made waves in the 1980s when he ran on an anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-pornography platform against Ed Koch for mayor of New York City” — posted three videos online over the last week, blasting the BlueClaws and the Ocean County Library system for the “homosexualization of our community.”

Levin singled out the BlueClaws in particular as “low-life scum” for daring to hold “an abomination” Pride event on the Sabbath despite the town’s local ultra-orthodox Jewish community. The Jewish observation of the Sabbath ends at sundown, about 90 minutes after the game begins.

The 50 anti-gay protesters who showed up at the demonstration were drowned out by 200 counter-protesters carrying rainbow flags, banners and signs, saying ‘Love Trumps Hate.’ They also played music and chanted messages including “Bigots Go Home” and “Let’s Go Gay!” according to Patch.com.

The protest was peaceful as uniformed and plain-clothes police kept the groups separated by a busy street. A BlueClaw sign outside of the stadium read “Baseball is for Everyone” with the team’s logo upon a rainbow background.

WInners: Matthew Mitcham and his fiancé Luke Rutherford

Matthew Mitcham — the 31-year-old, gay Australian Olympic diver — announced his engagement to his 30-year-old boyfriend Luke Rutherford via Instagram.

The post included an image of Mitcham smiling and his hand over Rutherford’s heart as the two scruffy men wore button-up short-sleeve shirts. In the post, Mitcham simply wrote, “He got down on both knees, I said yes, and now we’re engaged.”

In his own Instagram post on Tuesday, Rutherford wrote, “He said yes! I’m the luckiest man in the world.” Rutherford is an aspiring actor.

The couple reportedly celebrated the engagement with Rutherford’s family and now live near London. They’ve been dating for a little over six months and recently traveled together around Australia’s East Coast. When Luke’s Australian visa expired, they both moved to the U.K.

Winner and Loser: SonicFox

Everyone’s favorite black gay furry fighting game specialist, Dominique “SonicFox” McLean, took his talents to Chicago last weekend for Combo Breaker 2019, one of America’s top fighting game tournaments.

SonicFox entered as the defending Combo Breaker Dragon Ball Fighterz, but there were loftier goals than simply defending that title. He also set out to reclaim his Skullgirls: 2nd Encore title after falling in last year’s grand finals, ending his three year reign at the top.

But even more important was SonicFox’s desire to finally break his Mortal Kombat Combo Breaker curse. The reigning esports player of the year has never missed a Mortal Kombat top eight in Combo Breaker history but has also never been able to come out on top.

This fact is especially gnawing to SonicFox as he is recognized as one of the most successful athletes in tournaments featuring games developed by NetherRealm Studios, the makers of Mortal Kombat.

A quick 3-0 SonicFox sweep reset the bracket before reclaiming his title in a close 3-1 final match. The two shared a post-match embrace before the medal ceremony.

With one championship in tow, SonicFox readied to defend his Dragon Ball Fighterz title against a stacked field on Sunday. The current DBFZ EVO champion once again found himself in the loser’s bracket ahead of the top eight, but rode an offensive flurry into the final four. That’s as far as he would go, though.

His aggressive play style ran head on into the defensive stylings of Spain’s Joan “Shanks” Namay. SonicFox wasn’t able to figure out Shanks’ barrier defenses and fell to the underdog, finishing fourth and relinquishing his championship to long-time rival Goichi “GO1” Kishida.

Winners: Minor League Baseball teams and their LGBTQ fans

Minor League Baseball is putting the major leagues to shame this year.

The organization announced Monday that 64 minor league teams will be hosting a Pride Night or event — and in the case of the Hartford Yard Goats, more than one — to celebrate and salute both LGBTQ fans and their own staff.

Vincent Pierson, director of diversity and inclusion, dedicated MiLB Pride to “building bridges to the LGBTQ community that didn’t previously exist.”

MiLB calls this “the largest documented Pride celebration in all of professional sports,” including LGBTQ-themed nights, Pride promotions, discounted tickets for local LGBTQ organizations, and more.

Some teams will also be donating a portion of their ticket sales to LGBTQ non-profit organizations in their area, according to the organization.

This effort is in partnership with two important sports-focused non-profits: You Can Play — which advocates for equality and respect for all who connect with sports — and Pride Tape, which calls itself “a badge of support from teammates, coaches, parents and pros to young LGBTQ players and fans.”

Winners: Our out athletes of the week

Joey Gale made a statement with his rainbow-colored tape at an adult league All-Star game.

“I came out when I was 20 and quickly found myself in situations where I was the first or only queer person to do something. I joined a fraternity, and at the time, was the only out member. When I graduated and found a job at an ad agency in Des Moines, I was the only queer person at the company. My mentor at Drake always challenged me to queer the spaces I was in.

“Queering a space can be something like: prominently showing a rainbow flag or pin on an outfit or your desk; introducing yourself using your pronouns; using or recommending alternative phrases for derogatory language; or wearing makeup/nail polish if it’s not typically associated with how you identify. As I became the “first” or “the only” to do things, this concept began to take shape and build importance in my life, especially as I started to play more hockey.

“In 2016 I was introduced to Pride Tape — a rainbow-colored role of hockey tape. Pride Tape is a symbol of support from those who play with it that supports LGBTQ youth initiatives like You Can Play. Around this same time, the hockey league I was playing in was nominating players for an All-Star game later in the season. Miraculously, I was selected by players in the league to compete in the big game.

“Using the game as an opportunity to queer hockey and come out to my teammates, I bought a roll of Pride Tape and taped up my stick for the game. Hours before the game I rehearsed how I would respond if someone asked about the tape.

“It seemed so out there for me to do, like I was driving a nail into a massive balloon of masculinity. I was terrified. In reality, it felt more like a protest, as if the tape on my stick were shining a light onto a sport too afraid to acknowledge difference, sexuality and hate.

“I nervously sat down, and moments later, a teammate shuffled in and asked the locker room of 14 guys, “Who’s got the gay tape?” In an afternoon where I felt so vulnerable, this moment was shattering.

“The silence in the locker room washed over me and my heart raced. I knew that this was likely my only chance to come out, so I responded to the group. I can’t remember a word I said, but I was relieved by the response from my teammates.

“I saw smiles across the room and heard affirmation from my teammates. While it was an extremely defining experience for me, it was merely a baby step forward for the hockey community.”

Eric Bach felt he could not be his authentic self as a high school football and baseball player, but the burden of carrying his secret at Michigan State is now gone:

“I felt so ashamed of my secret that I did everything in my power to hide it. I would silently shudder every time I heard a teammate throw around words like ‘faggot’ or ‘cocksucker’ at practice or in the locker room. I knew that the slurs were not directed at me, but I could not help the anxiety that came every time I heard someone use one of those words. I was convinced that if someone found out my secret, my life would be ruined.

“It’s difficult to put into words how lonely it felt to carry this gigantic secret, knowing it had the potential to exclude me from my passions and everything I loved to do. I spent so much time and mental energy trying to keep my secret that I probably was not as focused on my academics and athletics as I should have been. Looking back, that view of the situation sounds overly dramatic, but at the time, it was my reality.

“My job with Big Ten Network Student U at Michigan State has allowed me to realize this passion in an environment that asks a lot of us, but also allows us to not be afraid to make a mistake. I certainly have made my fair share of them through my two years in the program.

“Broadcasting is not my only passion in sports. From a young age, I’ve also had a fascination with the referees and their role in athletics. I officiated my first basketball games at the local rec center around the corner from my house when I was 12 for $5 a game, and ever since then, I’ve been hooked. I’m not exactly sure what it is about officiating, but I think it’s the competition aspect of it.

“All that being said, being gay in these settings is something that still makes me a bit uneasy and uncertain about the future. Will I be able to get a job in broadcasting if someone who is uncomfortable with the thought of a gay broadcaster is making the hiring decision? Will I still be accepted and supported by my officiating partners, mentors and supervisors? Despite all the progress that has been made, the “locker room environment” is certainly still a very relevant part of today’s culture of sports.

The Minnesota Vikings bought a booth at the area’s Pride festival thanks to an openly gay front office employee, Amy Werdine.

Amy Werdine is a testament to the power of being visible as an out LGBTQ person in sports.

Werdine, the openly gay Guest Relations Coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, had a simple request of her bosses — have the Vikings buy a booth at Twin Cities Pride in 2018. They readily agreed and it was a big success, with 2,000 people stopping by.

Had Werdine been closeted, she likely would have been too afraid to bring up the idea of a Pride booth. But by having one of its employees being out and authentic, the organization clearly saw the value. The team is again having a booth at Twin Cities Pride June 22-23.

That’s all for this week! We’ll bring you a fresh list of winners and losers next Saturday. Got a name we missed, or want to challenge our choices? Comment here or on Facebook or Instagram,tweet at us, message us via any social media, or just plain email us at outsports@gmail.com Thanks!