This Sunday, the eyes of the sporting world will turn to Las Vegas, Nevada, as it hosts Super Bowl LVIII, pitting the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs against the San Francisco 49ers.
The NFL is expecting plenty of first-time viewers, thanks to the much-publicized relationship between Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce and singing superstar Taylor Swift.
Also watching this year’s game, albeit for more traditional reasons, will be players like Kevin Davila from the National Gay Flag Football League. The NGFFL has been in existence since 2002, steadily growing over the years, with affiliated leagues in major cities throughout the U.S.
Kevin Davila (left) and teammate during a recent gameImage by Frederick Lorrey-Parena
Davila is founder of the Boston Nor’easters of the Boston LGBTQ Flag Football League, which is affiliated with the NGFFL. The 35-year-old Davila played varsity basketball in high school and followed that up with 20 years dedicated to hip hop dance, including 10 years on tour with the Phunk Phenomenon Dance Company.
“I started with the league [as a player] five years ago,” Davila tells The Advocate. “And in the last few years I have become a part of the Diversity Equity Inclusion committee.”
He says that role involves bringing in a wider group of supporters and players.
“I just worked on a partnership with Dick’s Sporting Goods,” Davila continues. “I had a good friend that works with Dick’s Sporting Goods. And he had reached out to me in regards to finding some LGBTQ+ leagues to possibly sponsor and stuff.”
Every year Davila and the Boston league raise funds for a local youth group, holding drag shows and other events.
“They’re all nonprofits and they’re all youth organizations in the city who we feel like are doing a great job at what they do, but they’re not really gaining awareness for their cause,” Davila says of the selected charities. “So that’s one of our goals each year is to put on that fundraiser and raise as much money as we can for these organizations. We also volunteer for different flag football, youth flag football leagues, and we host a ton of other things as well.”
The NFL has been more visible in its outreach to the LGBTQ+ community in recent years, taking a large leap forward after former NFL player Carl Nassib came out in a post to social media during Pride month in 2021. At the time he pledged a donation of $100,000 to The Trevor Project, which was quickly matched by the NFL.
A few months later, Nassib became the first out gay man to play in an NFL game. He was a defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders at the time and used a strip-sack fumble recovery in overtime to secure a win in the first regular season NFL game. That game was the first official NFL game played at Allegiant Stadium, which plays host to Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday.
The NFL recently teamed with GLAAD for “A Night of Pride” in Las Vegas as part of the official NFL Super Bowl schedule of events. It was the third year in a row for the popular event, this year hosted by Lance Bass with out former NFL players like R.K. Russell in attendance.
Long before Nassib came out or the NFL hosted its first Pride Night, however, the New England Patriots and its owner, Robert Kraft, were reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community. The Patriots were the first NFL team to sponsor the queer flag football league’s ultimate event, the Gay Bowl in 2017.
Davila was quick to give credit to Kraft and the Patriots for their continued financial and public support.
“The Patriots were the first NFL franchise to sponsor a league in the (NGFFL), which I think is a really cool idea,” says Davila. “And it’s been a while now, where the Patriots and Robert Kraft have been very, very supportive of the league. And that’s something we are very proud of because any team can just donate or sponsor or whatever, but Robert Kraft really takes his time to come to events and ask us to come to Gillette Stadium, to have dinners or just, you know, just to catch up and things like that.”
Regardless of who is providing financial or public support, the league remains at its heart all about playing football.
Teams are required to have a minimum of five and a maximum of seven players on the field during play, with at least six players suiting up for the game. There are no requirements for down lineman (players who can only block), meaning all players are eligible to catch or run the ball. A game consists of two 25-minute halves.
Rather than run a single giant league, the NGFFL serves as a sanctioning body for dozens of affiliated homegrown leagues.
The league ranks players and teams by football skill and physical abilities. The level of play and competitive spirit in the upper division is high, with an abundance of confrontational trash-talking and punishing physical play.
“Yeah, it gets pretty vocal,” Davila says of the action on the field. “I mean, it’s all in fun, of course. But it does, especially with the Gay Bowl. It definitely gets the competitiveness out of a lot of people.”
Davila says former NFL practice squad players are peppered throughout the league’s rosters, but that the league does a good job of balancing play.
“They do good job of breaking down the talent levels of people in their teams or their respective categories or divisions to make it competitive but also fun for everybody,” says Davila.
One of the other keys to the success of the league is that teams are required to have not more than 20 percent of their roster spots taken by straight players. The rule has generated controversy amongst some players, but Davila sees the rule as a good compromise that allows for an inclusive field of players while also maintaining a predominant LGBTQ+ identity.
“I think that rule kind of sets that precedence where it’s like, okay, this is our this is a safe space for a certain group of people we are but we welcome everybody,” says Davila.
It’s the kind of inclusion that Nassib spoke of at the NFL GLAAD Night of Pride.
“Life is better when you’re being yourself and people love you more when you’re being yourself,” Nassib said at the event.
You can learn more about the NGFFL at their website (ngffl.org).