Every day this month, we’re looking back at our pioneers, the mark they left on our community and on the sports world, plus landmark events and stories that show Courage Is Contagious. Today, our Cyd Zeigler’s account of the very first Outsports convention, published in 2003.

2003: The Year We Made Contact

By Cyd Zeigler

As I was sitting in Trunks — a bar on Santa Monica Blvd. — Saturday night, one of our conventioneers, Cowboyhuskerfan, in from the East Coast for the weekend, summed up for me the entire convention perfectly:

“I was leery of coming 3,000 miles for this convention, and I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m so glad I came; I’m having a blast.”

That sentiment was resounded by all 18 of the participants at the first annual (and yes, I can now say with certainty, this will be an annual event) Outsports Convention, held in Los Angeles this past weekend, February 14-16. Not only was it the first convention for our Web site, but it was also the first conference ever held specifically for gay sports fans and athletes.

The weekend started Friday night with an informal gathering in a suite at the Hyatt on Sunset Blvd., where the convention was held. While watching the 76ers eke out a win over the Magic, we shared stories about everything from our first post on the Discussion Board to the role of Title IX in collegiate athletics. Given that it was Valentine’s Day, our options later that night for dinner were minimal; however, we found a great Thai restaurant which, despite having no alcohol, allowed us to bring in a couple bottles of some red wine and beer that Cowboyhuskerfan, Seph, and George_vikingfan drummed up.

Saturday morning started bright and early with breakfast and an engaging presentation by Helen Carroll, the Homophobia in Sport Coordinator for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. She filled us in on some of the work she had done in the past in sports (namely, coaching the UNC-Asheville women’s basketball team to the National Championship), and some of the work she is involved in now (namely, helping the case of Ashly Massey, an eighth grade lesbian who was not allowed into gym class). We also spent a good deal of time discussion Title IX, the various interpretations of it a school could use to guide themselves, and posing for pictures for Brent.

Soon after she spoke, she beat several Outsports members in a trivia contest testing the sports knowledge of all the participants. While Bridgeportjake could have won the contest if he had known the mascot of the University of Montanta (the Grizzlies), George_vikingfan held on for the crown of “Outsports Trivia Champion,” thanks to his “educated” guess that Tiger Woods had shot 2-under in the first round of the Buick Invitational. Brent even managed to play the game and take more pictures at the same time.

A tasty lunch of sandwiches, salads and cheesecake was highlighted by a conversation with Patricia Nell Warren, author of The Front Runner. Patricia told some of her old war stories of breaking into the sport of distance running in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and also shared some information about her efforts to mount The Front Runner movie.

An afternoon break was followed up by taking in the Clippers-Celtics game at Staples Center. As “Outsports” appeared on the Jumbotron above the court, everyone in the group was talking about Joe In Philly’s “skirmish” with a drunken Jeremy Roenick-basher he encountered during the Los Angeles Kings game several hours before. Joe even had the scars to “prove” his battle of defending his “boyfriend’s” honor. Of course, it only took about an hour before George_vikingfan finally cracked under the pressure and fessed up: there was no brawl; Joe had simply had a bit of an “accident.” You’ll have to wait to see Joe’s injury as Brent took several pictures.

Sunday morning started a bit later, given that Saturday night featured several trips to the bars in West Hollywood. We began with Eric Gumby Anderson, an openly gay former high school track coach now lecturing at UC-Irvine (the Anteaters, for all you trivia buffs like Seph), talking about his experiences behind the “Orange Curtain,” breaking down the walls of homophobia in high school and college sports. Gumby then posed outside the room for pictures with Brent.

In the gift exchange that followed, Seph’s Montreal Allouettes T-shirt and hat, and Joe In Philly’s Jim Thome t-shirt, were the hottest items. Somehow, Jim Allen, who didn’t even make it to the exchange, ended up with the Jim “Anaconda” Thome shirt.

Outsports’ version of Pardon The Interruption ensued with the whole group weighing in on college football playoffs, professional sports mascots and the validity of the MLB All-Star game. And, just as with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, much was discussed and nothing was resolved. Brent intermittently weighed in on minority hiring in the NFL and took photos.

We then headed down to West Hollywood Park to take in the sun, have some lunch, and play some football. Some of the football highlights:

  • Joe In Philly faking everyone out and “streaking” into the endzone for a touchdown;
  • Seph catching virtually every ball that came to him and scoring three times himself;
  • Redsoxbreath doing his best gymnastics imitation while blitzing the quarterback;
  • RJ in Huntington making a spectacular cut to the sideline that left him wide open for a touchdown; only to have his teammates stop play because of kids downfield;
  • Pat125 made a nice move from 20 yards out to get open for a score;
  • Canmark mastered the comeback cut, making two big receptions in traffic;
  • Chip impressed everyone (especially Jim Allen) with his athleticism in getting open virtually at will;
  • George_vikingfan looked like Randy Moss on a long pass after complaining that quarterback Jim wasn’t holding to his “Randy Ratio”;
  • Nosteroidz was a fierce tackler every time the opposition had the ball;
  • Brent took lots of pictures.

While four conventioneers went to the Lakers-Knicks games (with VIP tickets we raffled off), the rest of us ended the weekend with dinner at an Italian Restaurant where everyone not at the Lakers game shared stories from the weekend and discussed plans for the Second Annual Outsports Convention in 2004.

What started out as casual conversation two years ago all came to fruition this weekend – and the results couldn’t have been more fun. Serious issues were discussed for sure — but the laughs and so many moments from the weekend will be remembered by these original 18 participants for many years.

None of it would have been possible without the incredibly hard work of Chip, who took the idea and ran with it. For all his hard work, and for those memories that will stay with us, Jim and I thank him.

Be sure to watch the Web site for information about the next convention and, until then, we’re locking Joe In Philly from the Discussion Board until George_vikingfan catches him.

(See if Joe tells another story about brawls at Kings games again. 😉 — Cyd Zeigler

We’ll have another LGBTQ Sports history story tomorrow and every day through Oct. 31.