Why Cleveland Needed the Gay Games
Last week, I flew to Cleveland to perform stand-up comedy. I was part of the entertainment lineup at Hilarities Comedy Club for the Gay Games, a quadrennial event that this year attracted 8,000 athletes from 50 different countries competing in 35 different sports.
Being an obsessed sports fan since birth, I was excited to catch the Gay Games, but also to immerse myself in the Cleveland sports culture. I bought tickets to the Jake to watch the Indians play the Diamondbacks, and I prepared myself to jump right into the local debates. Johnny Football versus Brian Hoyer? Is it worth trading Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love? Is all forgiven with LeBron? I was ready to kick off what must be a joyous time in Cleveland, right?
Um, not so much.
As I walked through the Cleveland airport, I was struck by a sign of things to come. I spotted a book called, "Why is Daddy Sad on Sunday? A coloring book depicting the most disappointing moments in Cleveland sports."
Amazing. I mean, not for the locals. But for a stand-up comic dropping into town for the weekend, it was a jackpot. It was a quick read of all the gut-wrenching moments the town has endured. This city has experienced "The Drive," "The Fumble," "The Collapse" and "The Decision," just to name a few. The city has been burned more times than EVERY candle EVER sold.
The Browns have had about 20 starting quarterbacks in 15 years, and depending on what happens this season, they could hand the reins over to a 21-year-old kid who'd prefer to wear a beer helmet during the game. And then you have LeBron hoping to mend hearts by passing out cupcakes as the masses scramble to repair their burnt, stained No. 23 jerseys.
Even the game I went to ended in a very Cleveland kind of way. The Indians lost in the 12th inning on an RBI single by Arizona's Tuffy Gosewisch. Seriously, that's his real name. I thought he was a new suspect in the game of Clue. When a man named Tuffy Gosewisch beats you, it could easily be another sad page in a sad coloring book about your city.
As I talked to the locals, one woman described Cleveland sports fans as being "hopeful and hopeless" at the same time. "They think they're never going to win a game, but they're going to win the Super Bowl this year." Over the course of a week, this rang true, time and time again.
One night I jumped into a cab to go to the comedy club and immediately heard the sweet sounds of the local sports radio.
"So this must be a fun time to be a Cleveland fan, right?" I asked the taxi driver. "There's just so much excitement with Manziel and LeBron."
Cue the Cleveland mantra.
"There's a lot of excitement ... but, well, it's not like Manziel is Andrew Luck. I mean, Luck is 6-4, 240 pounds. I wouldn't start Manziel. And LeBron, well, I'm glad he's back, but who knows what that team is going to look like."
Hopeful and hopeless.
And in the middle of all this sports turmoil -- the Gay Games. The Games were founded by a former Olympic decathlete who felt that the Olympic movement had been hijacked by nationalism, ruining the ideals and spirit. The three principles of the Gay Games are participation, inclusion and personal best, all three of which were constantly on display
From swimming to sailing to DanceSport to ice skating and back, I've never seen such camaraderie between the athletes and such enthusiasm from the crowds. I watched an ice skater do a series of double axels and toe loops that were Sochi worthy. The next skater was so overweight that she could barely see her skates. Both received standing ovations. I watched two women burn up the dance floor to the Argentinian tango. I watched two 70-year-old men attempt to do the quick step in what appeared to be slippers. Both performances were inspiring. The women, in particular. And the slippers.
Growing up, some of these men and women never felt comfortable participating in sports because of their sexuality. They feared the name-calling, the harassment, the bullying. The Gay Games provide an opportunity for these athletes to participate, to be included, to achieve their personal best. It was one of my favorite sporting events I've ever watched. And Cleveland was the perfect city to host these Games. A city united by its love of sports.
Maybe LeBron or Manziel or future members of the Tribe will bring home a championship. Or maybe there will be more and more chapters of the coloring book. But at the end of the day, going to see these games with the people you love and watching these athletes give it their all -- that's magic. Participation, inclusion and personal best. The Gay Games have left Cleveland for this year, but I hope some of these ideals remain in a city whose identity should be a passion for sports instead of a lack of a championship.
I'm hopeful and ... hopeful.