By Connie Wardman, M.A., SDLT she|her|hers
A Dream to Play Gay Bowl in Beautiful Hawaii – As featured in our September/October issue of Compete Sports Diversity!
In the shadow of Honolulu’s majestic Diamond Head, some 800 members of the National Gay Flag Football League took part in Gay Bowl XXII on the beautiful fields of the Kapiolani Park on October 6-9. The NGFFL draws teams not only from the U.S. but also from Canada and this year 51 of those many teams managed to make the cut to play in this huge annual event, creating 37 open divisions (open to all genders) and 14 female+ (all those identifying as female) divisions.
The host for this year’s Gay Bowl was the HGFFL or the Hawaiian Gay Flag Football League. With 160 open acres, Kapiolani Park has picnic areas around the park perimeter, a duck pond, and a bandstand that, during the tournament, was arranged for local entertainment and food stalls as well as cultural activities to take place in the tents around the bandstand. Within the same complex are the Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo, the Host Hotel and Queen’s Beach.
The Gay Bowl XXII Host Hotel was the beautiful ’Alohilani Resort. In Hawaiian, ’Alohilani means “heavenly brightness,” and the resort, which lives up to its name, is only 60 steps away from the gorgeous Waikiki beach, within walking distance to the playing fields. The 5th Floor Pool Deck was the site of the Opening Party.
Members of the HGFFL made sure there was also a welcoming cultural component to everyone’s stay on the island of Oahu. As one of the most beautiful travel destinations, the Hawaiian Islands contain many plant and animal species that can only be found there. Their distinct history and culture are very important to local inhabitants so there is always an emphasis on educating visitors so they become respectful of all they take and all they give back – economically but also socially, environmentally and even spiritually.
An important part of every Gay Bowl is giving back to some area of the community in which the tournament is being played. This year, rather than money being donated to a charity of some kind, members of the HGFFL offered volunteer hours to the Hawaiian Loko l’a, fishponds that played a key role in feeding the Hawaiian People prior to Western contact. Now, however, they have now fallen into disrepair and remain choked with invasive species. The volunteers spent time restoring these food production centers where they were wet, muddy and physical but also found it to be deeply rewarding.
Getting the Gay Bowl to Hawaii really was the culmination of a long-held dream and a huge success, not simply because it’s such an incredibly beautiful place to play, but because so many HGFFL members have worked so hard for so long to make it happen. Originally scheduled to take place in Hawaii in 2020, the Gay Bowl was canceled due to the pandemic and was rescheduled for 2022.
In the October 2015 issue of Compete Magazine, I had a wide-ranging interview with former NGFFL Commissioner Jared Garduno about that year’s upcoming Gay Bowl in San Diego. We talked about how the continuing growth of the league was forcing it to reuse some of the larger cities that had fields and sports complexes big enough to keep everyone at the same place to avoid using multiple venues. “We need to be creative as we get bigger,” he said, “so other cities that haven’t hosted can still have the opportunity to showcase their planning abilities. I think everyone wants to go to Hawaii (a ‘wink’ definitely intended).”
A Dream to be Recognized by the NFL
Using COMPETE. CONNECT. UNITE. as its watchwords, the NGFFL has since continued to build itself under the following Strategic Pillars: Develop National Partnerships; Drive Membership Growth & Leagues; Give Back More Than We Take; and Elevate the Gay Bowl Experience. For any of you who were part of the three teams that took part in the original 2002 Gay Bowl held at Hollywood High School in Los Angeles as the dream child of gay sports icons and founders of Outsports.com, Jim Buzinski and Cyd Zeigler, this must seem like an impossible dream come true. While the phobias constraining the U.S. and beyond haven’t gone away – homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny and many others have loosened enough that the NGFFL is now gaining the open support of the NFL itself.
The NFL and some of its teams have been making strides in diversity for several years. In 2017 the New England Patriots partnered with the National Gay Flag Football League (NGFFL) to produce Gay Bowl XVII in Boston. That partnership fostered a strong relationship between the NFL and the NGFFL. In 2018 the Denver Broncos stepped up to support Gay Bowl XVIII in Denver. It was because of the NFL’s support of organizations like Gay Bowl that Compete Sports Diversity awarded the NFL the National Sports Organization Award at its 2018 Compete Sports Diversity Awards in Tempe, Arizona.
The Compete Sports Diversity Council (CSDC) also awarded the NFL a two-year membership in the Compete Sports Diversity Council, now a group of 150+ organizations reaching 250,000 leaders, athletes and fans dedicated to furthering sports diversity. The Cardinals also accepted the Professional Sports Pioneer Award at the event and former Kansas City Chiefs player Ryan O’Callaghan was also honored that year.
In 2019 the NFL continued its relationship with the NGFFL by sponsoring Gay Bowl XIX in partnership with the New York Jets Foundation and the New York Giants. The NFL also produced a short documentary about Gay Bowl XIX that aired on the NFL Network (the short also included video of the Gay Bowl XIX official guide produced by Compete Sports Diversity).
The NGFFL’s relationship with NFL is a solid partnership that has continued to grow. It represents a strong commitment to their mission to advance conversations on diversity and inclusivity within sports in many ways. For June Pride month in 2021 the league came out with a Pride-colored logo. They also created a joint effort with the National Junior College Athletic Association and Reigning Champs Experiences, announcing that women’s flag football was an emerging sport that included a $150,000 grant from the NFL that was distributed among 15 NJCAA member colleges.
But for the NGFFL, perhaps the pinnacle so far to its relationship with the NFL was being invited to the 2022 NFL Draft to announce one of the draft picks on live TV. On stage with NFL Commissioner Goodell were NGFFL Commissioner Shigeo Iwamiya; Gay Bowl Liaison, Joel Horton; and Director of Corporate Partnerships, Jodie Turner. Horton, who is a long-time player for the Phoenix Gay Flag Football League: Arizona Arsenal Travel Team, was chosen to announce the No. 87 overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals – Cameron Thomas, defensive end from San Diego State. Can acknowledgement from the NFL get much better than this? Maybe, but for now I have shivers just writing about it!
— NFL (@NFL) April 30, 2022
So perhaps it’s time for the larger world to adopt some of the important cultural norms and customs of the Hawaiians, starting with their famous word of greeting and parting – aloha. To use the explanation of the Gay Bowl hosts, aloha’s deeper meaning is a “mutual regard and affection; it’s a warm embrace with no obligation in return. It is the essence that each person is important to every other person for collective existence.”
Photo Courtesy NGFFL