If you haven’t already seen the publicity, the 2017 Gay Bowl is going to be quite a big deal! The Gay Bowl, an annual event informally dubbed the “Super Bowl of Gay Flag Football” is the flagship event of the NGFFL (National Gay Flag Football League). But it’s not new; it’s their 17th Gay Bowl since the tournament began in 2002. And Boston is hosting the event for the second time this year
But what makes this event more remarkable is the sponsorship from Boston’s professional sports teams. For the first time in the history of LGBTQ+ sports, a professional sports team is publicly sponsoring an LGBTQ+ sporting event.
Hold the phone, though; it’s not just one professional sports team, it’s all five. With the New England Patriots (NFL) taking the lead as a presenting sponsor with the Boston Red Sox (MLB), the Boston Bruins (NHL), the Boston Celtics (NBA) and the New England Revolution (MLS) all bronze-level sponsors for the 2017 Gay Bowl!
The significance of this year’s Gay Bowl has not been lost on the Milan brothers, twins born and raised in Boston who have been preparing to compete at this year’s event. We caught up with them and they have quite their own story to tell. You see, while they both play on the “same team,” they don’t necessarily play for the “same team.” Translation? One is gay and the other one is straight.
Twins Shane and Austin Milan are also teammates on the “Hancocks,” their team that is part of FLAG (Friends, Lesbians and Gays) Flag Football, Boston’s inclusive flag football league that is hosting the 2017 Gay Bowl. The Milan’s background in football goes all the way back to playing tackle football in high school and being part of an intramural flag football league in college. The brothers explained that:
“As a twin, we grew up constantly competing with and against each other. People are always comparing the two of you in everything you do; academics, athletics, etc., so we always fought to be better than each other. I think that it really helped us bring out the best in each other, and I’m happy that we get to do it again.”-Shane Milan
(It was easy to see the twin in each brother come out since they answered my question almost exactly the same, despite separate interviews.)
Shane was the first brother to get involved with FLAG at the encouragement of a friend and co-worker. Shortly after moving to Boston for a new job he quickly found himself embraced in the welcoming camaraderie and community of the LGBTQ+ Flag Football League of Boston. For the first year Shane was involved with the league, Austin would often attend his brother’s games as a spectator and athletic supporter or, as he puts it:
“I had gone to a few of his games to see him in action and find out why he was so excited to be playing. He encouraged me to join and that following spring we played on the same team together in my first season.”- Austin Milan
Gay Bowl 2017 is Shane’s fourth season and third major tournament while Austin’s third season and first tournament with FLAG. As a straight man playing for a predominantly LGBTQ+ league, Austin had this to say about his experience:
“Having played in other organized leagues I can say that FLAG is rivaled by few in terms of inclusiveness, community pride and level of competition.”- Austin Milan
There is something to be said about the high level of competition and PRIDE that LGBTQ+ sports teams and leagues have in common, something found across all sports. FLAG Flag Football signifies this in their moniker, “Friends, Lesbians and Gays.” It represents the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere found not only in FLAG but it also represents that for all LGBTQ+ sports. With this attitude as a foundation, the Milan twins and other athletes can practice, train and play to their full potential as athletes and achieve their personal best for their teams at Gay Bowl 2017.
“I know The Hancocks, the team my brother and I play for has shown a new level of dedication this year. There are a lot of great teams in this year’s field but we think we have what it takes to win it all. And we can’t wait to have the opportunity to prove it on the field.”- Shane Milan
With the gauntlet already thrown down, the 2017 Gay Bowl being held October 5-8 in Boston is certainly going to be one to keep up with as the athletes and teams head there ready to compete for the glory of winning this latest Gay Bowl. And big kudos must go to the organizing committee who brought the Gay Bowl to Boston this year and also managed to get all five major professional sports teams in the city as presenting sponsors. They have certainly set the stage for an amazing tournament.
But on a higher level they are also paving the way for the future of LGBTQ+ sports by organizing a high quality, competitive, inclusive and fun tournament that is going to set the bar high for all events to follow. With the recognition coming from multiple professional sports leagues, it gives LGBTQ+ sports and its athletes the visibility that both have always deserved.
Be sure to follow FLAG and Gay Bowl 2017 on social media; you can find their handles at www.gaybowl.org.
By Dirk Smith
Photos by Patrick Lentz Photography & Design
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