Sports Are For Everyone at HOTMess Cincinnati

The popular LGBTQ+ intramural sports league is creating fun and competitive spaces for all.
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Photograph by Devyn Glista; photo composite by Emi Villavicencio

Alexander Yeazel runs HOTMess Sports Cincinnati, an intramural sports league for area LGBTQ+ residents. It started two years ago with kickball (which now features more than 400 players) but has since grown to include dodgeball, flag football, cornhole, bowling, and grass and sand volleyball.

How did you get involved with HOTMess?

I was invited by a friend to join during the very first season, and I enjoyed it a ton and kept doing the other sports. And then a couple months in, they were looking for new leadership, so they reached out to me in September 2021 and offered me a position. I’ve been helping run it ever since.

What drove you to get involved?

I grew up playing sports, so I’ve always been an athlete. I also grew up in a conservative and religious background, so a lot of the people I grew up with no longer want to associate with me because of my queer identity. HOTMess helped provide a replacement. It allows me to combine my athletic side with my queer identity, and I’ve always enjoyed creating spaces for people to do both of those things.

The league started in 2021, yes? Was it spurred by everyone coming out of the pandemic?

I think that definitely played a role in it. For me, I had just moved during COVID back to Cincinnati, and so I was looking for opportunities to make friends. Everything I had done prior to this was online and isolated and virtual. But I think another aspect of it is that most LGBTQ+ spaces are at night in clubs and bars, primarily because it wasn’t safe for a queer space to be out during the daylight until very recently. Obviously, all of those spaces are important, but there’s not many public, open, LGBTQ+ spaces during the day. HOTMess provides that opportunity.

Why do you think a space like this is important for queer people?

I think it can be healing. There was a time where I had a coach who sat my whole football team down before a game and told us that if we didn’t go out there, we didn’t hit hard, and we didn’t play well that we’re just a bunch of sissies like all the homosexuals who weren’t going to inherit the kingdom of God. That’s what a whole lot of athletic spaces are, right? Lots of “locker room talk.”

So, one, it can be healing for people who had traumatizing or distasteful experiences in high school or collegiate sports. Two, it’s important for us to be able to make friends, and a kickball game is a completely different atmosphere from being out at a bar. The league provides an opportunity to create friendships that wouldn’t be there otherwise, because everyone is welcome.

You mentioned a big part of the league is making friends. Are there any events you host that aren’t official matches?

We have “Sunday Fundays,” where we’ve got different sponsor bars in the league. Usually, after everyone finishes playing their games, we go to Sunday Funday; 70 to 100 people usually all go to the same bar, hang out, have a couple of drinks. You’ll be talking to people who you were on your team with or playing against, people who are in different divisions or teams.

We also have “Thursday Afterparties,” which are similar; we all choose to hang out in one spot after our games. A lot of teams get together to practice during the week, too. This past weekend, we had a charity drag show where some players in the league who’d never done drag before performed for the first time ever to raise money for local LGBTQ+ charities. We raised more than $3,000 for Transform Cincy.

What kind of tasks are in your day-to-day role as commissioner?

I oversee all of the leagues here in Cincinnati. I’m responsible for scheduling, rostering, communication, and helping sponsor events. I help run the charity show, organize different hosts, and help with getting players. And then I oversee our managers, who are the ones there on game day setting up the fields, making sure the equipment’s there, making sure our referees and umpires are on time. They run the actual games day to day, and then I’m doing behind-the-scenes operations.

What’s your favorite memory with the league?

I’ve met some of my best friends through the league. There isn’t necessarily one specific memory, because these are the people I now spend every day with, the ones I go on vacations with, the ones I go out with on weekends. Before I was commissioner, playing here was the first time I’d been able to do anything without having to come out—it was already an assumed part of my identity. Because of the comfort I felt being in that space, it pushed me to want to come out. I credit HOTMess with giving me the strength and the courage to fully come out to everyone I knew.

What’s next for the organization?

I want it to continue to get bigger. You know, every season we have people who say, “I just moved to Cincinnati, and I wanted to make friends, so I signed up.” I just want to continue to be a safe space for LGBTQ+ people where they can compete and have fun in a welcoming and safe environment.

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