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    San Francisco Gay Flag Football League Continues to Grow

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    By John Chen

    While the city of San Francisco is busily welcoming Super Bowl 50, scores of local LGBT tight ends and wide receivers are busily catching and scoring every Sunday. Since its inception in 2009, San Francisco Gay Flag Football League (SFGFFL.org) has seen player participation grow each year. Previously seen as a man’s man sport in a contest of masculinity, testosterone and brute strength, football today embraces players of all sizes, shapes, orientations and genders thanks to the efforts of local LGBT football groups such as SFGFFL.

    Professional and competitive tackle football can be daunting with playbooks as thick as War and Peace, coaches who are portrayed as volatile and players who are mean, big, athletic, strong and muscular! (Great to drool over, but less fun to get flattened by one, unless you are into that kind of thing.) Thank goodness flag football removes a good chunk of the physicality and requires far less hours in the gym, making the game much more approachable and easier to negotiate. And the playbook more often than not is drawn up on the palm of the QB’s (quarterback) hand right before the next play.

    In fact, one of the all time favorite play calling is “everyone get open,” which means run to an open spot on the field and wave your arms at the QB and hope s/he either throws or doesn’t throw the ball your way. Of course, flag football has its competitive side with organized teams practicing plays over and over again in hopes of winning the local, regional and even national championships.

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    This current season SFGFFL has attracted many players who are new to playing flag football. Dan Wilkin, a recent transplant to San Francisco, grew up in a town of maybe 10,000 and lamented that “there wasn’t any gay football” where he was. “Now that I am in San Francisco, I can play football and have fun without being judged.” Will Nash, who also recently moved to the Bay Area, is playing flag football for the first time because “football is a great workout and a great way to meet people.”

    Traditionally a men’s sport, scores of women are now catching touchdowns. “Growing up I couldn’t play football because there were no women football players and teams. Now I get to play with both men and women and it’s a lot of fun!” said Brit O’Neal. Several women footballers have discovered the joy of competing in both the women’s (San Francisco Women’s Flag Football League) and co-ed (SFGFFL) leagues. When asked about the difference between the leagues, Sarah Mobarekeh offered her insight: “Men are more technical…there is more focus on skills, but women can be more physical.” O’Neal added, “Men have strong knowledge of the game, which helps me be a better player.” Both women, however, reiterated that having fun and being active are the main reasons why they love to play.

    On a rare dry, but bitter cold, Sunday, Sarah, Brit, Will and Dan, along with over 60 others, braved the conditions just to play the sport they love. Also on this day, two visiting parents from Wisconsin proudly and nervously watched as their son caught two touchdown passes and intercepted another. Mrs. Laurie Lepak led the cheers on the sideline and exclaimed, “We are glad Clayton found the LGBT football league. We are here to watch him play!” Mr. Guy Lepak added, “We fully support Clayton’s move to San Francisco. Coming from a conservative background, it’s great to see our son happy and making friends through football.”

    And today, less than a month from Super Bowl 50, LGBT footballers are buzzing with playoff talks in between games and downs. Many excitedly gossip about their favorite pro, his stats, his competitive edge, and repetitively emulate his spectacular plays. SFGFFL Commissioner Darrel Bayani said, “Even though the 49ers and Raiders didn’t make the playoffs, we will still host a Super Bowl 50 watching party at the Oasis. Thanks to our main sponsor Coors Light, LGBT football has empowered passionate players like Sarah and Dan a safe place to play the game they love, be themselves, to make friends and, most importantly, have fun!”

    For more information on SFGFFL please visit SFGFFL.org

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball and football teams.

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    John Chen