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What does Outsports mean to me? It’s all about community

I came to Outsports looking for a job. I’ve gained an invaluable support group.

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Outsports Pride attendees marched in L.A. Pride last year.
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My first introduction to Outsports co-founders Cyd Zeigler and Jim Buzinski were as the guys who got interviewed on big talk shows whenever there were gay issues in professional sports.

They ripped Tony Dungy for his long history of homophobia; they commented on various athletes saying various homophobic slurs; they were asked endlessly about when there would be an active openly gay NFL player.

For a loudmouth teenager who loved hearing himself talk — and also knew he was gay — it seemed like a pretty cool gig. Now that I actually work at Outsports, I realize that’s the least of what we do.

Outsports turns 21 years old today, and for the last 21 years, Cyd and Jim have told the inspiring stories of LGBTQ athletes, coaches and sports professionals. That is this great website’s legacy.

Don’t get me wrong: it is important for LGBTQ voices to comment on major LGBTQ issues in sports. Since everyone who works here is both LGBTQ and a sportswriter, I like to think our perspectives on national stories like Thom Brenneman and Collin Martin are important, and frankly, more valuable than some straight guy’s.

We are uniquely positioned to cover stories at the intersection of sports and the LGBTQ community, because we’ve lived the experience. For example, our managing editor Dawn Ennis and contributor Karleigh Webb have been providing the most thorough coverage anywhere surrounding Idaho’s anti-trans legislation.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence both of them are transgender women.

But when I look back on my first year with Outsports, I don’t think of one particular major story we’ve covered. Instead, I think about community. That is a testament to the organization Cyd and Jim have built over the last 21 years.

Building community in a time of social distancing is challenging, and in some respects, can seem like an oxymoron. But that’s what we did throughout the spring and summer, hosting weekly Friday night Zoom chats during the early days of quarantine.

Our Zoom guest list spanned continents and generations. We had ex-NFL players, college athletes, teachers, advocates, high school kids, media people and sports executives. They all had one thing in common: they were once profiled on Outsports, or were avid readers. In many cases, they were both.

The most exciting part about working at Outsports is the opportunity to add new members to our amazing community each day. Last month, we held a virtual conversation with four out athletes who helped create organizations on their college campuses for LGBTQ athletes.

I was proud to see Richmond basketball player Jaide Hinds-Clarke, whom we profiled in July, on an Outsports panel just three months later.

During the last week of October, in the lead-up to the most polarizing presidential election in modern history, two of our most popular stories were about a gay college basketball coach marrying her best friend and former pro rugby player coming out in a tear-jerker op-ed.

Cyd and Jim have talked about changing attitudes in the sports world for a long time. Their first book, “The Outsports Revolution,” was published in 2007. In it, they write about the impact of trailblazing LGBTQ athletes across the sports world — from MLB’s Billy Bean to Greg Louganis.

Every LGBTQ athlete whom we profile is a trailblazer. They are coming out to their families, friends, teammates, coaches and communities. Every visible LGBTQ person in sports is an inspiration to closeted people everywhere.

Former Miami Hurricanes running back T.J. Callan put it this way: “The fact you feel so alone and so isolated, balancing all of these lies, I feel like if I’d seen someone talk about how to navigate this, it would have helped me.”

That is a central theme of every story we tell: how to navigate being openly LGBTQ and thrive in the sports world. More people are doing it each year, and attitudes are changing.

On Monday, researchers published a study of coming-out stories on Outsports that found the men’s sports world is overwhelmingly supportive of gay athletes. Out of 60 stories sampled from 2016, the researchers found “every athlete described an acceptant and inclusive response from their teammates and, therefore, improved psychological wellbeing.”

That study personifies the impact of visibility, which builds community.

As the media landscape has evolved, there are mercifully more places that offer the cultural perspectives of LGBTQ sportswriters. But we don’t just offer it. That is our perspective.

I came to Outsports looking for a job. But more importantly, I’ve gained an invaluable support group, and plenty of people with whom I can crash next time I run through WeHo or the West Village. That’s what’s most important.

Hopefully, we will be able to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of Outsports together at some raucous Pride celebration. Until then, see you on Zoom.