February 12, 2014

Game Change: POYi Meets NFL Meets Queer Nation

Trolling through the winning photos in U. of Missouri’s distinguished Picture of the Year, International contest, this shot struck me as truly creative. We know cultural values and social norms have been on the move. What we rarely see, though, is a photo that pulls threads from each end of the spectrum and pulls them together. Of course, the idea that the population of died-in-the-wool, red-blooded American sports fans wouldn’t be proportionally populated with gays and lesbians makes no sense at all. Stereotypes and homophobia in professional sports (particularly the NFL) being what it is, however, the synthesis in this photo feels surprising and new.

So hurrah (or huzzah!) to SF Chonicle photographer Lacy Atkins for this shot, taken during last year’s Super Bowl (49ers – Ravens) from, as the caption id’s it, “the first gay sports bar in SF.” As if the morphing of gay and gridiron called for something demographic, we have the elemental balance here of a gay male couple (married, besides) and a pair of ebullent lesbians. (Hopefully, we can set aside the fact the 49ers just scored and — talking stereotypes again — it’s all too easy to relate scoring to the immediate setting.)

While in the ballpark, by the way, I’m curious to see how the Michael Sams story is going to visually unfold. Having just come out, the Missouri Tiger’s defensive star (it’s Mizzou all around today, isn’t it?) will be the first openly gay player in the NFL. (That will become official once the draft is held.)  The way photo editors like to chose photos that play on underlying narratives, every photo of Sam going forward is going to welcome analysis for even the hint of a subtext having to do with his sexuality.

This takes us into such a subjective realm, it’s worth its weight in disclaimers. Simultaneously however, considering the same intermingling of thematic strands Atkins drew on in the sports bar, I couldn’t help wondering if the shot in this SI article about Sams and his announcement might tip a bit toward the theatrical.

(photo 1: Lacy Atkins/San Fransisco Chronicle. caption: Markus Merlino, left,  kisses his husband Alan as they celebrate the San Francisco 49er scoring in the third quarter against  Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl, Sunday Feb. 3, 2013 at the first gay sports bar in  San Francisco, Calif. photo 2: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.)

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Michael Shaw
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