By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
Coming off of the Compete Sports Diversity Fall Summit, in which Jesus Godinez was recognized with the “Individual Community Hero Award” and as the North American Gay Flag Football League AND Phoenix Gay Flag Football League prepares for Gay Bowl 2022 in Hawaii on October 6th-9th, 2022. We are sharing our interview with Jesus featured in our May/June 2022 Pride Issue to share his enormous work and accomplishments toward building the LGBTQ+ sports community while working to promoting LGBTQ+ sports diversity within professional sports.
Dirk Smith: Tell me about the Phoenix Gay Flag Football League and the work you’ve been doing with them?
Jesus Godinez: Phoenix Gay Flag Football League has been around for over 15 years. I believe we’re in our 17th season and it was founded by Sean Ray and some of the founding members include Jared Garduno among others. I had the opportunity to join the League five years ago on a whim when someone said a spot opened. At that time, the player draft was already done, teams were set, and everyone was like, “we lost the player, do you want to join?” So, I decided to check it out. I was new to Phoenix, and I needed to find my niche along with a core group of friends out here. When I joined, I had no idea nor any prior experience playing flag football or football in general. I am more of soccer and track athlete, but I figured why not? What the hell? So, for my first season I joined their travel team, the Phoenix Blast and then the following year, I was approached by Jared Garduno who is a former NGFFL commissioner and PGFFL Commissioner. Jared said, “I think you’d be good to run for the board and we’re looking for some young blood.” By no means am I that young? Just younger, I guess. So, I thought about it.
Dirk Smith: Obviously then you ran, what position did you run for and how was that experience?
Jesus Godinez: I ran for Assistant Commissioner got elected. It was a very cool experience to be elected by your peers to a position of leadership, so I took it very seriously. Shortly after I started, our current commissioner at the time had to relocate so I was appointed commissioner. When that term was up, I ran to be elected as commissioner and I made it my initiative to make sure I was understanding the operational foundation of the league and where they stood with the impact they’ve made on the community. Who their partnerships were; I like to call “sponsors” partnerships in that I believe a sponsorship is a partnership that goes both ways. I want to be able to give back to those that give to us and eventually get to a point to where we are in a place where we can just give and give. So as commissioner, I took the time to learn all the little nuances and all the ins and outs of the league in this regard.
Dirk Smith: That’s awesome! What did you learn from that and put it into action?
Jesus Godinez: I learned that we were not hitting our max potential as an organization. Phoenix is home to about 5 million people. What are we doing with eight teams here? What are we doing with six teams? How do we get the league elevated to the next level? Make the player experience that much better? So, I put my boots on, went running with it to brainstorm my first initiative. I decided we’re going to build our sponsorship work with our existing sponsors and bring on new sponsors that aligned with our mission, vision, and values. The first partnership I wanted to have was another sports partner. We already had a few community partners that were very local, like your local, LGBTQ+ bars, local restaurants, printing company, etc. We had all those, but we didn’t have anything that was sports to sports. My mindset was if I can get a national sports organization to recognize Phoenix Gay Flag Football, regardless of how they identify it but to just want to get behind the cause and importance of making sure that LGBTQ+ athletes have a presence in the athletic world. I knew that’s what I needed to do and that’s what I wanted to do.
Dirk Smith: Wow, that’s fantastic and very bold initiative! What was the first step in pulling that off?
Jesus Godinez: I was very fortunate that Compete Sports Diversity invited me to one of the annual Sports Diversity Awards events I believe back in 2017 or maybe 2018. We got to present the Arizona Cardinals with an award and make an introduction there. Slowly but surely, we worked on building that relationship, finding someone we can talk to who’s involved and serves as their community impact person. We invited them out to games to kind of see that our athletes are just that, that they can compete with the league and compete with the rest of them, regardless of if you’re straight, gay, bi, lesbian, transgender, or queer. Finally, we were able to bring them on as a season sponsor and right away they saw the impact that this organization has on the community. So that season sponsorship turned into a yearly sponsorship. An important piece of our partnership is the education aspect, we wanted to make sure that our sponsors know, our mission, vision, values, and the importance of stigma that comes with LGBTQ+ athletes. We talked about the statistics that come with athletes who stopped pursuing their athletic aspirations because of that locker room banter that comes with it and other reasons. On our end with this effort, we were able to increase the monetary value and we were able to increase that exposure to the NFL. So, we’re very happy to bring them, the Arizona Cardinals, on as a sponsor of a local LGBTQ+ flag football, which led the conversation to continue with different cities like with the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, and Denver Broncos. We were able to get that snowball rolling by putting, the LGBTQ+ recreational sports in the forefront specifically to build that partnership.
— NFL (@NFL) April 30, 2022
Dirk Smith: That’s great, it’s important to hold the organizations accountable for their investment in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Making sure they walk the walk.
Jesus Godinez: We built that relationship, and we were able to expand it. We don’t want to limit ourselves to football. Not every city is fortunate enough to have a LGBTQ+ Football League, LGBTQ+ soccer, LGBTQ+ softball, or whatever the sport is. That doesn’t mean we can’t work together just because the Phoenix Suns is basketball instead of football. We should be collaborating and helping educate as many people as we can. So, that was our next initiative is how do we expand from NFL and make it more community sports oriented overall.
Dirk Smith: You mentioned the Phoenix Rising? How did that come about?
Jesus Godinez: After we had secured the foundation with the Arizona Cardinals, we were able to do some stuff for the community such as youth clinic. We also hosted some events related to the Arizona Cardinals to sponsor some families who may have LGBTQ+ members or foster kids that either have LGBTQ+ foster parents or the actual kids themselves identify as LGBTQ+, we’re able to offer them an experience of going to a professional NFL game. We also had some other initiatives to raise money for local LGBTQ+ charities. So once we had that going, a lot of which just happened naturally, we were approached by the Phoenix Rising. Now the Phoenix Rising was kind of in a pickle. They had a bad experience a couple years ago where an athlete used a derogatory term. The coach at the time dismissed it as locker room banter but it created a lot of bad publicity for the team. So, they reached out to us and asked “hey, we’ve heard your name and work, we want to see if we can come out to one of your games.”
For me, talking to the coach as well was more important. We wanted to make sure that this was more of an educational opportunity and that we were able to provide some statistics and knowledge about the impact of that incident. It was our main goal, and it needs to be brought to their attention. So, they came up to our game and we did a walk and talk with the coaches on the field. They were very generous, very apologetic, they took that opportunity to educate themselves to take that education back to their athletes and relay the same messaging.
Tonight’s Phoenix Gay Flag Football League All Star Game participants!! pic.twitter.com/AWg1sWfsxs
— Phoenix Rising FC (@PHXRisingFC) June 5, 2022
Dirk Smith: Wow, that’s strong to be able to leverage that into a real learning moment.
Jesus Godinez: After that they reached out to us and said they were inspired by the culture of the PGFFL and the atmosphere that we deal with, how it’s a safe place for anyone. They asked us to become a partner with us and while the gut reaction is yes, we wanted the partnership to be more of a collaborative experience. We did a lot of work with everybody to make sure we were providing education to facility members, and we were able to help them host their first ever Pride Night at the Phoenix Rising Complex.
Happy #PrideMonth to all of our LGBTQ+ fans!
This Saturday, we’ll be debuting our Pride merch at Pride Night! Proceeds from all Pride merch sold during the month will be donated to @1n10.
— Phoenix Rising FC (@PHXRisingFC) June 1, 2022
Dirk Smith: That’s fantastic, clearly your work with the Cardinals was well noticed by other organizations as well and inspired them. Did you work with any others?
Jesus Godinez: The last one we were able to work with was the Phoenix Suns. They reached out to us a couple of years ago and asked us to basically put a link on our website. They posted a link to a charity that some of the ticket proceeds would go toward, but we were not looking for it to go back say that we are supporting just any LGBTQ+ organization. It was a hard decline to say no, but we ended up declining that opportunity. This past year they reached out to us again and said they were ready for that education piece. They were ready to let their fans know of LGBTQ+ athletes and they were very gracious. They came out to one of our games and interviewed some of the athletes, they talked to gay athletes, lesbian athletes, and transgender athletes. During their pride night, were able to kind of put that montage together and blasted out to their audience of spectators. So, things like that, even something that was a slow build but has taken kind of taken off. Now that people are wanting to be involved with the LGBTQ+ sports community and LGBTQ+ athletes in general, we continue as an organization to push that message. Regardless of your athletic abilities, athletic aspirations, how you identify, etc. You have a place that PGFFL family and you have a place in any sporting arena.
Dirk Smith: Wonderful story! Thank you for sharing, you’ve had such a big impact! Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Jesus Godinez: I’d like to highlight a few things PGFFL offers and the work they do! Find more info at https://www.pgffl.org/
The Phoenix Gay Flag Football Athletic scholarship is funded by PGFFL through fundraisers managed by league members. To date we have fundraised over 20K, with our most recent fundraiser topping off at 11k. We have been able to provide 5 individual scholarships to students who identify as LGBTQ+ or have members or their immediate family who identify as LGBTQ+. Our scholarship is currently funded for the next 5 years.
Throughout the years the PGFFL has provided thousands of volunteer hours to various non-profit organizations. The PGFFL recently received a 11,000 donation from the AZ Gay Rodeo Association. These donations allow us to keep player fees down to ensure every individual who decides they want to pursue their athletic aspirations, regarding of their economic background or athletic abilities can do so.
The PGFFL strives to use its fundraisers, cultural events, and the sport of flag football to break down stereotypes, eliminate prejudice and discrimination, and to educate the public about the LGBTQ+ community. The Arizona Cardinals and Phoenix Rising recently held their first ever pride nights. PGFFL was honored to be a part of both of those. This past year the PGFFL was able to work with the Phoenix Suns to create a video for their pride night as well.
Beyond our Pride Night, we’ll be highlighting LGTBQ+ community partners we’ve been working with over the last year and will be encouraging fans to learn more about these organizations.
If you know of a group that is doing great work in the community, let us know!
— Phoenix Rising FC (@PHXRisingFC) June 1, 2022
Photo Credit: Jesus Godinez and PGGFL