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Gay Ball!

Can gay pro-sports fans finally come out of the closet and be accepted by their teams?

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Out editor-in-chief Brendan Lemon's claim that he is having an affair with a closeted major-league baseball player sent the media into full Social Issue alert, from "Page Six" to Sports Illustrated to CNN, which ran a one-hour special wondering, "Is America Ready for Openly Gay Athletes?" But maybe the real question should be, is America ready for gay sports fans?

Because for all the worry over queens in the clubhouse, nobody's stood up for the gays in the stands. "I've been a sports fan my whole life," insists Out's Lemon. And he's not alone: While hundreds of sites offer athletes as soft-core porn (a big one, teamdane.com, shut down May 24 to avoid being sued over using unauthorized photos), serious online communities like Outsports.com get thousands of hits a day. "We assume our audience knows and understands sport," says co-founder Jim Buzinski. "We're not doing Sports for Dummies."

On Outsports, the Stanley Cup finals generate as much talk as swimsuit photos of Texas Rangers center fielder Gabe "the Babe" Kapler. Thorough coverage of the college-lacrosse championship also manages to compare it with the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. Along with predictions about the French Open, there's a lot of talk about the best-looking team in baseball (the Yankees score thanks to Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, and Jorge Posada's thighs).

But is pro sports willing to accept its gay fans? The WNBA doesn't have a problem with it: Last month, the L.A. Sparks held a rally for 1,000 at lesbian hotspot Girl Bar. But male sports teams seem to find the prospect a bit more threatening: Questions about reaching out to "alternative lifestyles" were met with silence from the Yankees and the NBA. Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz "respectfully declined" to comment after the Out article was brought up: "We're not going to be part of that."

Only Giants Stadium seems big enough for anyone willing to take off his shirts and paint his torso blue and red: "One of the beautiful things about sports is its broad appeal," says Giants communications director Pat Hanlon. "Your fan base should be a broad mix of sex, race, religion. Sports has a unifying effect in that way."


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