I’ve written before about the special place that my local LGBTQ flag football league holds in my heart. I joined Boston’s FLAG Flag Football as a young post-grad in 2016, adrift without a gay community or much of a social identity.
Seven years later, I know exactly who I am as a gay man, and the great friends I’ve met on the field are a big reason why. I didn’t only find a space where I felt comfortable playing football — a game that terrified me as a kid.
I found a family.
ESPN’s Izzy Gutierrez shares similar feelings. On “Around the Horn” Monday, Gutierrez gave a touching shout-out to the beauty of LGBTQ sports leagues, and implored others to join.
“If you have trouble finding a competitive sports base that you feel safe in, I just finished the National Flag Football tournament over the weekend — one of several that I’ve played in over the years,” he said in the show’s closing segment. “If you go to your local LGBTQ sports league, and find a team of whatever sport you want to compete in. I highly encourage it.”
Gutierrez is referring to the Sunshine Cup, a flag football tournament held every President’s Day Weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Over 500 players took part in the festivities, gaining lifelong memories along the way.
“You go back to the days of Glenn Burke, the first gay baseball player who came out after he played, when MLB forced him out,” said Gutierrez. “He found new life in gay leagues. I know a lot of my friends have found new life in these leagues, even though they’ve played competitively at very different levels in the past. Again, I highly encourage you, go check out your local LGBTQ leagues.”
Gutierrez, who publicly came out as gay days before his wedding in 2015, is one of the most prominent out LGBTQ people in sports media. In recent years, he’s found power in sharing his full story, complete with its many ups and downs.
While we are living in the golden age of LGBTQ visibility, gay youth are in the midst of a mental health crisis. Close to 70 percent of LGBTQ students “experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” during the past year, the CDC reports.
While joining a gay sports league isn’t a panacea for poor mental health, it can lead to the discovery of a support system. After all, happiness is being one of the gang.
Gutierrez shared a text message on Twitter that a teammate received from his parents that illustrates the point.
As a follow up, this is the kind of experiences I’m talking about in LGBTQ sports leagues.— Izzy Gutierrez (@IzGutierrez) February 20, 2023
Played with a teammate in his first tournament this weekend. This was a text from his dad, who came to watch the championship game. https://t.co/rWLZ0sZgRA pic.twitter.com/P4DagAMJo9
There were plenty of touchdowns scored in Fort Lauderdale this weekend, undoubtedly followed by a whole bunch of hugs.