It’s hard to ignore the fact that we’re smack dab in the middle of football season. I don’t know about you, but my family’s Thanksgiving always includes turkey, pie, and naps in the living room while my dad and uncles yell at the screen at their favorite football teams. While not so much a person drawn to the sport–some might call me the anti-jock–I’ve recently adopted more interest in understanding this American tradition and thought it perfect to focus this month’s “A Different Light” on gay characters and football in YA lit.
A few years ago, I picked up Bill Konigsberg’s Lambda Award-winning novel, Out of the Pocket. If you love football and you love YA lit, this is your book. I’m probably the last person that Konigsberg imagined reading his book, but thank goodness for the teen librarian’s attractive sports-themed display at my public library because it got this book in my hand. It follows Bobby Framingham, the star quarterback for the Durango High School football team in suburban Southern California. In Framingham, Konigsberg creates a character with a seemingly perfect life. He has loving parents, great friends, popularity, a girl who thinks the world of him and a very strong future in college football. Oh wait. One more thing: he is gay and in the closet.
There is a real place for books like this in YA lit because it is such a light and uplifting read that centers itself on a main character who is a gay athlete. Bobby Framingham shows readers that even the most popular boy in high school, a “guy’s guy” who loves football more than anything–and, boy, does he love football–could be gay. We follow his coming out process to his friends, teachers and parents, and learn that coming out need not always be horrible and traumatic. One of the most touching parts of the book is when Bobby finds his father in tears with joy at his son’s bravery in coming out.
I was really impressed to learn that the author, Bill Konigsberg, is an award-winning sports journalist who worked for the Associated Press. In 2002, he won a GLAAD Media Award for his coming-out article, “Sports World Still a Struggle for Gays,” which appeared on the home page of ESPN.com. To me, that speaks volumes about Konigsberg’s personal experience and authority on gay athletes and sports. For a true football fan, Konigsberg’s expertise on the subject shines through the very detailed football game sequences, which I imagine would make very enjoyable and suspenseful reading.
I haven’t read other YA lit with gay athletes (male or female), but I looked to another Lambda Literary Award-winner and author of Rainbow Boys (which made YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults in 2001), Alex Sanchez, for some book recommendations in this area. He suggests two other sport-themed books with gay characters on his website: Dumb Jock by Jeff Erno and Athletic Shorts, a short story compilation edited by Chris Crutcher. While I haven’t read these two books, if you have any opinions about them or other recommendations about YA lit with gay characters and sports and football please let me know. Ten hut and Happy Thanksgiving!
— Cristina Mitra, currently reading Bossypants by Tina Fey
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