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Winners and losers of the week in LGBTQ sports

Each week, Outsports’ managing editor selects the heroes and goats from the past seven days of LGBTQ sports coverage.

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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 the week’s winners and losers.

Winner: SonicFox

The fighting game community’s dominant gay star remains undefeated in Mortal Kombat tournaments at the Super Bowl of fighting game esports.

YouTube

Brian C. Bell reports: EVO, the mecca of fighting game esports, is the latest stage for Dominique “SonicFox” McLeanto showcase his dominance. The FGC’s emissary of queer positivity cemented his position last weekend as the best Mortal Kombat player of the last decade, taking home the EVO 2019 Mortal Kombat 11 championship on Saturday night. SonicFox’s route to the title was simultaneously strenuous and certain. A strong challenge from Sayed “Tekken Master” Ahmed nearly sent gaming’s favorite furry to the loser’s bracket ahead of winner’s semi-finals. But the highlight of the tournament came in the winner’s bracket final: a rematch of CEO 2019’s all gay MK11 final between SonicFox and Ryan “Dragon” Walker. The two faced off in the grand final matchup after Dragon conquered the loser’s bracket, a reversal of their paths to CEO 2019’s MK11 grand final. But where SonicFox was able to reset the bracket before winning the title, Dragon fell in straight sets. SonicFox dropped to the stage after the victory, pointing to the sky in celebration.

Losers: Equinox

Since news broke that Stephen Ross, the billionaire who owns the parent company of luxury gym Equinox and fitness company SoulCycle — as well as the Miami Dolphins — was hosting a fundraiser for President Trump, some members of the LGBTQ community have been canceling their memberships, while others have been organizing boycotts and protests, much in the same fashion of demonstrations against Chick-fil-A. While several out Hollywood celebrities have joined the effort, as of press time, no prominent LGBTQ athletes have voiced their support. The Los Angeles Times reports dozens of protesters gathered outside the Equinox gym’s West Hollywood, Calif., location on Friday night. The demonstrators held signs that read “SoulCycle has no soul” and “Equinox supports a white supremacist.” According to the L.A. Times, “cars inching along a congested Sunset Boulevard honked a cacophony of support.” Outsports has launched an unscientific online poll on Twitter to gauge how our readers who are LGBTQ athletes are reacting.

Winner: Billie Jean King

Lesbian tennis legend and feminist trailblazer Billie Jean King now has a six-inch plastic action figure whose sales help a good cause.

Daniel Villarreal reports: FCTRY, a Brooklyn-based toy company that makes “real-life action figures” of famous people, recently announced their latest release: a six-inch tall figure of lesbian tennis legend and feminist trailblazer Billie Jean King. The $20 action figure resembles King’s appearance at the time of her historic 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match against then-retired champion Bobby Riggs. (A match which became the subject of a 2017 film.) The figure also comes with comes with articulated shoulders, elbows and wrists as well as a tennis racket so that fans can pose her delivering her signature backhand. FCTRY will donate 5% of all sales to the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative (BJKLI), a non-profit King founded with her partner Ilana Kloss that promotes equality in the workplace through global forums, workplace research on diversity and a biennial leadership conference bringing global corporations and universities together to discuss raising the next generation of business innovators.

Also regarding BJK: The USTA will have a day of LGBTQ outreach Aug. 22 at the U.S. Open, with free admission for all. It’s the first “Open Pride,” and will be held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, N.Y. The event is part of U.S. Open Fan Week, the week ahead of the elimination-tournament part of the U.S. Open. The day-long event is free to everyone who wants to attend.

Losers: U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education agrees to investigate a Title IX complaint that could lead to a trans athlete ban in Connecticut.

Ken Schultz reports: Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education has just taken a step that could eventually put opportunities for trans athletes to compete according to their gender identity in jeopardy. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights agreed yesterday to investigate a Title IX complaint filed on behalf of three Connecticut cisgender female track and field athletes that the state’s policy allowing trans athletes to compete with them constitutes “illegal discrimination.” On Thursday, the Washington Blade reported the DOE rushed to begin its investigation without having a solid understanding of the legal framework to accept jurisdiction. The Blade obtained emails which it said detail a behind-the-scenes exchange among officials in the Office for Civil Rights. The report has not been independently verified by Outsports.

Winners: Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson

Denmark’s Pernille Harder and Sweden’s Magdalena Eriksson are two soccer players who are dating and helping fight queerphobia in youth sports.

Daniel Villarreal reports: Magdalena Eriksson and Pernille Harder first achieved worldwide celebrity when a photographer captured them kissing after Eriksson helped Sweden defeat Canada in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Now they’re using that fame to advocate for LGBTQ acceptance in soccer. Both Eriksson and Harder are also two of roughly 100 professional sports athletes donating 1% of their annual salaries to Play Proud, an initiative that “aims to equip coaches and mentors with the skills and knowledge to establish safe spaces and guided LGBTQ+ adolescents to participate in sports at the youth-level with confidence.” The couple are encouraging other pro sports athletes to donate 1% of their salaries as well. Play Proud is an initiative of Common Goal, an organization that helps fund global initiatives to meet the United Nations’ Global Goals for sustainable world development.

Loser: George Morris

The New York Times reports: “For more than five decades, George H. Morris was the king of equestrian sport, a former Olympic coach whose words — from how to ride to what breeches to wear — were gospel for riders at every level. He had a magazine column in which he sometimes complimented but often eviscerated riding photos that equestrians submitted to him, and he even had an action figure that spouted his trademark snarky aphorisms. That all came crashing down Monday when Mr. Morris was barred for life from all domestic and international equestrian sports after an investigation into “sexual misconduct involving a minor,” according to the United States Center for SafeSport, an independent body that investigates sexual misconduct in Olympic sports. The lifetime ban of Mr. Morris, 81, a vaunted Olympian whose books on horsemanship are called bibles by riders, has roiled the equestrian community.”

Winners: USWNT

Thanks to the popularity of Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, and Allie Long, Sky Blue and Reign will move to a 25,000 seat arena.

Ken Schultz reports: Between a ticker tape parade through New York’s Canyon of Heroes and an invitation to visit Congress for a victory celebration, the World Cup champion U.S. Women’s National Team has experienced an unprecedented popularity surge. Now after their dominant run through the tournament, they’re beginning to see that acclaim inspire a remarkable growth of interest in their sport. Case in point: on August 18, the National Women’s Soccer League schedule features a contest between Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long’s Reign FC and Carli Lloyd’s Sky Blue FC. Normally, Sky Blue’s home games are held at Rutgers University’s 5,000-seat Yurcak Field. However, due to unprecedented demand for tickets to see these top stars of the USWNT do battle with one another, the Sky Blue/Reign match has been moved to Newark’s 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena. And it’s entirely due to so many fans wanting to see Rapinoe, Lloyd, and Long in person. Red Bull Arena is normally the home of MLS’s New York Red Bulls club. Which means that this is the first instance of the US Women literally taking over a space that had previously been reserved just for men.

Losers: US Soccer

US Soccer has hired lobbyists to argue they pay the women just fine.

Stephanie Yang of our SB Nation partner AllForXI reports: US Soccer has hired two lobbying firms to convince lawmakers in Washington, D.C. that the women’s claims in their equal pay fight are incorrect, and that this should be taken into account by anyone proposing legislation to pay the women and the men equally. Politico listed the two firms as FBB Federal Relations and Van Ness Feldman. They also provided a presentation they obtained that was prepared in order to further USSF’s position that they are not underpaying the WNT. The presentation shows slides comparing the WNT and MNT contract structures (guaranteed base salary vs payment for making rosters/winning games), showing that the WNT receives some benefits that the MNT does not get like health care and maternity leave, comparing World Cup prize money between men and women, and then at the end brags about how much USSF has already invested in the women’s game.

Winner: Chris McNaghten

The gay Irish strongman and his fiancé celebrated Pride where marriage equality is banned.

It’s Pride month in Northern Ireland, where it’s still not legal for same-sex couples to marry. But that didn’t stop native son and out athlete Chris McNaghten from returning home this past weekend with his fiancé, to enjoy Belfast Pride together. “It’s my first pride with my fiancé John,” the Irish strongman told the BBC. McNaghten, whose nickname is “Big Bear,” confessed one thing they’ve never done back home is display affection for one another. “Whenever we have been in London together, there’s no issue with holding hands, there’s no issues being in restaurants with each other or kissing or showing any type of affection with each other,” he said, according to the British tabloid The Sun. McNaghten describes himself as a trailblazer in his sport. “I’m the first openly gay strongman to come out in the UK and Ireland, possibly even Europe,” he said. But he takes the view that being gay is just one facet of who he is. “I want to be Ireland’s strongest man,” said McNaghten. “I don’t want to be Ireland’s strongest gay man.”

Losers: Cal State Athletics

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times uncovered how athletic departments and lawmakers have found ways around California’s ban on travel to states with anti-LGBTQ laws.

Three years after California lawmakers banned state lawmakers and state university athletes from traveling to 10 states that discriminate against LGBTQ Americans, a new report indicates the ban is about as effective as the Lakers efforts to land Kawhi Leonard. The Los Angeles Times reports California’s university sports teams are still visiting the boycotted states and finding other ways to pay for their trips, as are state lawmakers. State university sports teams and students participating in academic competitions are financing their travel with private donations, according to the Times. California elected officials reportedly are drawing money from campaign contributions to continue visiting the targeted states, which remain none too happy with the ban signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. Officials from the ten states affected — Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas — accuse California of meddling in their affairs. But supporters of the ban tell the L.A. Times it has put pressure on states that have adopted discriminatory laws, despite workarounds that allow athletes and lawmakers to continue traveling to the targeted states.

Winner: Nyla Rose

“I was not hired because I am a trans wrestler. I was hired because I’m a wrestler,” said Nyla Rose in an exclusive interview with Outsports.

Daniel Trainor spoke one on one with Nyla Rose: “[Wrestling] was something I always wanted to do. But growing up, here’s these characters on TV that are larger than life. You don’t actually think it’s an actual profession you can do,” Rose said. “So, it wasn’t until sometime in college that I was like, ‘Oh there are wrestling schools. You can go to wrestling school and actually do this.’” The early days were decidedly less glamorous than they are now. “My very first gimmick coming out of wrestling school was Robot Ninja. I didn’t even have a character name, it was quite literally just Robot Ninja. The promoter bought some Robot Ninja dolls from a toy store and needed to sell them. He knew I studied martial arts and when I dance, I do the robot. So it was kind of a no-brainer,” she said. I was like, ‘What the hell is wrestling? What have I gotten myself into?’” Still, despite slowly making a name on the independent wrestling scene, doors remained locked. While strides were being made professionally, Rose was waging a more personal war outside the ring... “There’s a bit of depression there because in the back of my mind, I know there’s this greater thing, this greater version of myself that I want to be, that I could be,” she said. “But for personal reasons, I can’t quite get there yet.” But eventually, Rose made the decision to come out as transgender and began transitioning. “Things came to a head and I reached a breaking point where I was willing to risk it all... so I just said, you know, ‘screw it.’ I threw caution to the wind and told the world who I really was,” she said. “To my surprise, wrestling embraced me.”

Winner: Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson was released from prison 25 years early after a ‘fundamentally unfair’ trial. Now he wants to help others.

Cyd Zeigler reports: When Michael Johnson was last a free man six years ago, he had a support structure, a plan for his life and dreams that he hoped would take him to the Olympics. Walking out of prison earlier this summer, some of that support structure had disappeared and some of it had been replaced. The plan for his life has been forced into a detour. Yet his dreams and aspirations have survived a six-year ordeal that may have broken others. “I’m doing my passion now, which motivates me,” he told Outsports from his friend’s home in Indiana. “And as long as I’m doing what makes me happy and motivates me — helping others and being a coach — if I can go to the Olympics and be successful, that’s my dream.” Johnson was released from prison earlier this summer after a court said he had been the target of a “fundamentally unfair” trial that sentenced him to over 30 years for failing to disclose his HIVstatus to sexual partners — a crime in Missouri. The sentence was longer than some receive for murder, and the severity of the punishment had brought pointed criticism to laws criminalizing the transmission of HIV... While Johnson admits the last six years were “very, very hard,” the former wrestler at Lindenwood University, now 27, points every question asked of him to the future. “I’m happy to be home and to be free.”

Winner: Andy Brennan

Andy Brennan’s story shows the power of visibility and being honest when coming out.

Jim Buzinski reports: Andy Brennan in May became the first Australian male pro soccer player to come out as gay. Nearly three months later, he has zero regrets. “The reaction has been amazing,” Brennan told the Daily Telegraph. “I haven’t had one negative comment. That was something I feared a lot with everyone I told, but everyone — teammates, family, friends — has been amazing. “I’ve had no problems with opposition fans either, everyone’s been really supportive. The way it’s affected my life has been only positive, it’s been so much better.” This is how it has been in every instance of someone coming out in sports as gay, lesbian or bi since we’ve been publishing Outsports (trans athletes, especially women, sadly often get negative reactions along with the positive). And it has long made us wonder why more people don’t take the plunge.

Winner: Haley Videckis

Being Out is a feature that looks at LGBTQ people in sports who have come out since Outsports first published in 1999. After losing a court case, out college basketball player Haley Videckis became determined to fight injustice.

Jim Buzinski reports: Haley Videckis has a strong sense for social justice borne out of a feeling of injustice when she played college basketball. Videckis and her partner Layana White sued Pepperdine University in 2014, saying the school’s women’s basketball coach discriminated against them because they were dating. A California jury ruled in 2017 that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the women were targeted for their sexual orientation. The case was notable because it was one of the first times sexual orientation was allowed for a legal claim under Title IX. Even though she and White lost their case, the fight convinced Videckis that it was one worth having. Videckis, who identifies as pansexual, is writing a book on her experiences, is planning to enroll in law school and is forging a career as an activist and writer. Earlier this year, she was hired by Outsports as a contributor. She and White live in Los Angeles.

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!