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SANDY BANKS / Life as We Live It

This Team Has a Point to Make

July 03, 1998|SANDY BANKS

It shudda been a slam dunk.

That's what Louise Capone figured when she volunteered to manage the best gay men's basketball team in the world.

The team had captured a gold medal in the Gay Games in 1994 and is headed for Amsterdam this summer, favored to repeat. Capone is an experienced promoter and fund-raiser who has run some of the city's most popular park basketball leagues.

And here they were, in the midst of one of the largest, richest, most sophisticated gay communities in the world--a community looking for something to feel good about.

How hard could it be to raise money for the Rebels, our own Team Los Angeles, in the gay version of the Olympic Games?

Hard, Capone would learn. And unnecessary, after all.


It's not Olympic competition in the conventional sense.

No sports credentials are needed to play; competitors range from novices to world-class athletes. And events include not just typical Olympic sports --basketball, swimming, track and field--but such unathletic endeavors as billiards, chess and ballroom dancing (same-sex couples only).

But the Gay Games has become, in its 16 years, not only the world's largest athletic competition, but a grand celebration of gay culture and life.

At least 12,000 men and women are expected to compete Aug. 1-8, more than the 10,500 athletes who participated in the 1996 Olympic Games. And 150,000 spectators and revelers will descend on Amsterdam for the eight-day sport and festival marathon.

The games have become such big business that five cities--including Los Angeles, where local officials pledged $45.5 million to stage the games--vied to host the next competition in 2002. (The Gay Games Federation chose Sydney, Australia, last fall.)

Yet Capone--who is "straight but not narrow-minded"--has found the gay community curiously uninterested in supporting the team.

"I went into this knowing the gay community is very well-organized, figuring it wouldn't be hard to tap into networks of support," to help fund uniforms, equipment and travel costs, she said.

She sent letters to every business that advertises in the Gay Yellow Pages, asking for small donations--whatever they could spare. Not a single response.

She was unable to convince the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center to help promote a fund-raising concert, and got empty promises from a local car dealer and real estate company that draw much of their business from the gay community. A major sporting goods manufacturer agreed to donate uniforms, she said, then reneged.

Some prospects brushed her off with the explanation that they have already done their part by contributing to groups that fight AIDS. That's great, Capone said. "But what about these guys, living the kind of healthy, active lifestyle that we oughta be trying to promote?"


While the lack of support has disappointed Capone, it hasn't sapped her team's enthusiasm.

They've set aside the $2,500 per person it will cost, with those who can afford it helping out those who can't.

"Money, support . . . that's never been the issue with us," said team captain Mark Chambers. "We're going, regardless of how much money we raise. And we're going to be the first gay team to win back-to-back gold medals."

His teammate Steve agreed. "It would be nice to know you're acknowledged and people are out there rooting for you," he said. "But that's not what it's about. It's about five guys on the court, playing as hard as you can, with everything you've got."

And what they've got is a lot.

"Sometimes when Louise sets up scrimmages for us, we know guys hear 'gay basketball team' and think 'sissies,' " said Steve. "So we show up . . . and we've got four guys who average 6-5, 220.

"It's hard to have the image of tutu-wearing, limp-wristed types when we come thundering out on the court."

For years, Capone had heard the guys talking about their gold medals. She'd seen them play in the men's leagues she runs at North Hollywood's North Weddington Park. Still, it took awhile for her to realize that these guys--strapping, macho, hard-charging, butt-kicking men--were gay.

"I mean, you look at these guys. . . . They bust every stereotype you might have," Capone said.

That, said Steve, is the idea.

When he came out 11 years ago, at age 25, Steve was afflicted by the same stereotype that colors many of our private perceptions of gay men.

He'd played basketball all his life, including four years as a nationally ranked player on a major East Coast college team. Still, "I thought the term 'gay athlete' was an oxymoron. . . I thought I was the only gay guy who played basketball."

Then he saw an announcement in a gay newspaper: The Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Center was sponsoring pickup games for gay basketball players.

Steve showed up, along with several men and women--"from collegiate players to guys just learning the game"--and the men's team they formed went on to win a silver medal a year later at the Gay Games in Vancouver and a gold medal four years ago in New York.

It would be nice to win again this year, to come back to Los Angeles to accolades from the gay community the team represents.

But the most important victory has already been won . . . that's the victory over delusion and self-doubt.

"I had swallowed the line that had been fed to me all my life--that what I was was innately incompatible with what I wanted," Steve said. A gay man . . . a basketball player. It didn't compute.

And it led to pain and confusion that didn't let up "until I took the court with these guys."

"And there are other people out there who are also gay and suffer from that same illusion. And I'm here to tell them, it isn't true."

And if you don't believe his words, you can meet him on the basketball court.

* Sandy Banks' column is published Mondays and Fridays. Her e-mail address is

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