I went a little bit crazy when tennis great Rafael Nadal won his tenth French Open on June 11. I cried when he received his trophy. I cried when his lower lip quivered as the Spanish National Anthem was played. And I cried when I typed his name complete with exclamation point and the number 10 ten times and posted it on Facebook.
The French Open, along with Wimbledon, The US Open and the Australian Open are the four major tournaments in professional tennis. The French Open is the only one played on clay. To win one of these four tournaments is a major accomplishment. To win several, is the mark of a great tennis player. Outstanding tennis greats win a few of this one, a few of that one maybe one or two of all four. But no tennis player had ever won ten of the same major tournament since the birth of the Professional Open Era in 1968. History was made. Nadal, the King of Clay, is now in second place in total major tournament victories among men at 15, second only to, arguably the best all-around player of all time, Roger Federer at 18.
Why am I even writing about this? you might ask. I am writing about this because. . .
I LOVE RAFAEL NADAL. I LOVE RAFA. I have followed his career for 12 years, since he was 19 and had shoulder-length hair. I watch his matches whenever possible. I have scheduled days around his matches. He is my God of Sports. I LOVE RAFA NADAL.
Rafa Nadal is my all-time favorite athlete. I celebrate his victories as if they are mine. But I suffer with him, too, when he is injured. I suffer with him when he has a bad tournament or loses a championship match.
While I watched Rafa claim his 10th French Open trophy on June 11, I began to wonder what other athletes might I consider among my favorites and why. I had one requirement: their active years had to be during my lifetime. No Jim Thorpe, Jackie Robinson, or the Babes, Ruth or Didrikson.
The first name that came to mind was Los Angeles Ram All-Pro defensive tackle Roosevelt Grier. Grier was a huge, bearded Black man who taught me to defy stereotypes and expectations and I have frequently told how he became my role model in life; Grier was a California delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention. As a speaker addressed the crowd, a camera zeroed in on Grier who was doing needlepoint while listening. That vision of a man, a big Black man, a professional football player doing what was perceived as a woman’s skill changed my life. It taught me to defy labels, not to be a cliché, and not to be a stereotype. Roosevelt Grier inspired me to try to be complex, contradictory, and unique.
Greg Louganis was 16 when he won an Olympic silver medal in diving. A few weeks later, he was on American Bandstand and Dick Clark interviewed him. I knew immediately that Greg was gay, whether he did or not. Louganis went on to become the greatest men’s diver in history, winning four gold medals and five world championships. For me, watching Greg dive was like listening to Streisand sing or eating coconut cream pie. It took me out of the moment and into another world. I have briefly met him twice, once at a book-signing and one under circumstances that deserves a blog post of its own. Perhaps in the future.
Serena Williams is among the greatest female tennis player of all time. While, I don’t love her in the same fashion I love Rafa Nadal, I do love her and respect her game. I have scheduled days around her matches like I have done for him. To watch Serena is to witness perfection. My heart races with each stroke, grunt, point, and victory. She is temporarily off the tennis circuit as she is pregnant. If that baby is a boy, I would be greatly honored if she were to name him after me.
It is no secret I am a fan of figure skating. Does that make me a stereotype homo or simply a man who appreciates the blending of athleticism with art? I say it is the latter because I know many gay men who have no interest in, appreciation for, or knowledge of figure skating. While there have been many skaters, both male and female, who I have followed, enjoyed, and admired for their skills, my favorite skater has been Canadian Kurt Browning. Kurt combined athleticism, art, and entertainment like no other. He did for skating what Reese’s did for peanut butter and chocolate, what Disney’s Fantasia did for animation and classical music in 1940. But skating is not always performed by singles. There are pairs and ice dancers, too. Brits Jane Torville and Christopher Dean changed ice dancing in the 1980s, making millions notice the skating category for the first time and raising it to a level beyond all expectations and imagination. When Torville and Dean skated, I was so focused, I didn’t move. I didn’t even breathe.
As a Seattle native, there are many Sea Hawks, Mariners, Sonics, Storm, Sounders, and Huskies, I could consider among my favorite athletes. But my favorite hometown athlete is not one of them. He will remain nameless because he was a former student of mine and I know from where he came, what he overcame, and what he achieved in professional sports and his life. While I was probably just a blip on the radar screen of his life, he is a constant inspiration to me and someone I greatly admire and respect.
I also have a special place in my heart for Washington State’s Olympic medal winning skiers, the Mahre twins, Phil and Steve; race car and Dancing With the Stars champ Helio Castroneves; and the Sea Hawks first quarterback Jim Zorn. Is it because I consider them among my all-time favorite athletes? No. It is because we share the same birthday.
Certainly, some of my regular readers may have expected something funny in this blog, something inane. And there may be others who are in shock, that I, a proud card-carrying homosexual, have an interest in sports. But, if you recall, I said earlier in this blog that my role-model Roosevelt Grier taught me not to be a cliché, to be complex and contradictory. I hope I have honored him and have avoided being a stereotype.
But did I mention I LOVE RAFAEL NADAL. LOVE HIM. I LOVE RAFA. OMG, DO I LOVE HIM. HE’S SO FUCKING BEAUTIFUL. HIS BODY IS TO DIE FOR. TO WATCH HIM PLAY TENNIS IS A MATCH-LONG ORGASM. AND I KNOW WHEN HIS CAREER IS OVER AND HE HAS TIME TO FOCUS ON AND UNDERSTAND THE OTHER PARTS OF HIS LIFE, HE WILL LEAVE HIS GIRLFRIEND ,WIFE OR WHATEVER SHE WILL BE THEN AND FIND ME AND WE WILL SHARE THE REST OF OUR LIVES TOGETHER IN ETERNAL BLISS BECAUSE I LOVE HIM. AND HE LOVES ME. And he understands that 10SNE1 means “Tennis, anyone?”