by Jim Provenzano
Suffering from gridiron withdrawal? Still embarrassed over the Raiders Riots? Friends, there is a remedy.
The San Francisco Shockwaves flag football team hosted the second annual Gay Super Bowl, April 26 & 27, and regularly scrimmages in the Bay Area.
Crews from Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles and San Diego competed for the title of champion flag football team, and the competition was pretty fierce. Los Angeles, with a surplus of players, took the top victories in the two-day event.
Not that San francisco's team didn't have a lot of talent.
Shockwaves organizer Darrel Bayani, 29, is somewhat of a local jock of fame, having played football each of his years at Lowell High School.
"It was sort of easy for me, growing up gay," he said.
Bayani came out to a few friends in his senior year while co-captain, to little, if any, controversy.
"It was no big deal," said Bayani. "I didn't make a big deal about it. I really wanted to focus on playing. I just told a few people about it, and they didn't care. One of my best friends was so happy, because he liked hanging out with gay guys."
Like many other younger athletes with goals, Bayani hopes to get a draft to semi-pro. "This is what I like to do. I didn't care about the political ramifications."
The story of former pro football player Esera Tuaolo's coming out "pretty much touched home, being a Pacific Islander," said Bayani, whose family is Filipino.
"Samoans are generally really large people, so they make great good football players. A lot of the kids I played against were 6'6" 300- pound 14 year-olds."
Initially, his dad's concerns weren't about his sexuality, but his athletic 'lifestyle choice.' "He wanted me to play baseball, fearing I'd get hurt, but I don't like baseball."
Hopefully, Bayani's next stop is in the semi-pro local leagues, with the Golden State Amateur Football League.
"It's a lot of running around mainly, pretty much like regular football," said Bayani. "The concepts are all the same."
Along with regular Saturday scrimmages at Dolores Park that continue to see growing attendance of both straight and gay players of varying skill levels, the Shockwaves participate in fundraisers and other events. Sportforgood.org, a local group, has organized playing at Mission High School's football fields.
"They want to have three games going on simultaneously, dividing the field into thirds," said Bayani. "It's impossible to find two regulation football fields next to each other, so we work with what we've got."
Fans can expect a friendly rivalry with the Los Angeles team. At last year's premiere Gay Super Bowl, said Bayani, "We beat Boston, but got slaughtered by LA. They put together some really good plays."
The Shockwaves has taken different incarnations. Bayani started playing back in 1994, after the team had come in third at Gay Games IV in 1994.
They've been around since 1989 in various forms, but flag football wasn't included at Gay Games until 1994.
"We're pushing to get it put back in 2006," said Bayani.
"Everyone who plays softball in Chicago goes into flag football," said Shockwave member John McGill. "LA's traveling team is 15 to 18. That?s all the gay guys we've got!"
McGill, 32, has been with the Shockwaves since 1999, and plays safety, receiver, and other positions.
Before that, his last football experience was in elementary school in his hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania.
He later played a lot of individual sports; cross-country, swimming, track, and wrestling. "I even started gymnastics and martial arts to learn how to do a backflip," he said. "But I fell on my back and said, 'I'm done!'"
"Being African-American, everyone thought I was going to be a superstar. I didn't have that extra little bit that my brother and cousins had, so there was some pressure."
Growing up while attending sports camps, he remained distant from football, but now loves it, particularly, "the feeling of belonging" he gets from the Shockwaves.
"It's been a wonderful home to explore the sport in the most comfortable way possible," said McGill. "You never have to worry about being the outsider. Your skill level is never criticized."
"I always enjoyed it in a recreational sense, as long as there was no pressure. I was actually silly with it when I started. I wasn't that good, but enjoyed the camaraderie. I thought it was fun to be with queer guys and enjoy the sport that's actually fun."
The fun also comes from the mix of recreational players that include several straight men, and even some women.
"We've become half straight, half gay," McGill laughed. "It's really nice to have the straight guys play. You've got to be accepting. We even have some guys who were not at first.
"One guy, before he came to the football team, never saw gay guys as being able to be competitive and play the sport, to have that same drive and fire. That's one of the really nice aspects, that bridge between the two."
A few celebrities from their alumni include Mark Bingham, who later helped start the SF Fog Rugby Team, and former organizer Darryl Gregory, who had played on a college team.
Aside from a few broken fingers, and a player crashing into the wall at Collingwood Park (where they used to play), the group has had only a few major accidents, including a broken arm, and a player who suffered a concussion, and recovered after a hospital stay, but stopped playing.
To maintain safety, McGill said, "We're working on the idea of coming up with more national rules. They're into a lot less contact. The focus becomes to not have the impactive physical contact of regular football. We've incorporated those rules for safety."
"We've worked to cut it down, with penalties, no stiff-arming, and no diving at players to get the flag."
Despite having not attended Gay Games VI last year, McGill will soon relocate to Australia to get a masters degree in Human Resources at the University of Sydney. He hopes to be an unofficial ambassador of flag football, in the land where rugby is king.
For info and results of the Gay Superbowl II, visit The Shockwaves site.