When I first heard about Logo’s [AfterElton.com’s parent
company] new series titled Shirts & Skins, I worried it would be
another MTV reality cookie-cutter show focusing on shirtless hunks, made-up
drama and people behaving like fools in hopes of 15 minutes of reality fame.
I am happy to say those worries have been totally “shut down”
(to use a common sports term). What the creators of the show have developed in
their docu-series is a testament to the diversity of gay people and what should
be a source of real inspiration for young gay men who, more and more, don’t
want to turn their backs on sports. Yes, there’s drama and yes, there are
shirtless jocks, but it’s all organic to both basketball and to the show, and
that makes it all the more real.
For the six episodes of Shirts
& Skins we follow the lives and loves of the players, managers and
coaches who make up the Rockdogs, a gay basketball team based in San Francisco.
The team has a long and storied tradition, winning more Gay Games gold medals
than any other basketball team while dominating the gay basketball scene for
various stretches over its two-decade-long history.
Teammates Peter (left) & Mike
This incarnation of the team, with a relatively new crop of
players, has rented a house for two weeks in San Francisco to live and train
together for the National Gay Basketball Association championship in Chicago
(better known in gay sports circles as the Coady Roundball Classic). We watch
the team as they practice, plan and scrimmage, and of course, end up learning
more about themselves and their teammates as gay men who don’t quite fit the
stereotypical gay mold.
The basketball playing is hot, which it had better be given
the show’s subject matter. And it’s impossible to watch this team play without
recognizing they are a talented bunch. In fact, these guys are so talented that
it’s almost impossible to believe them when they claim how difficult the
climactic championship tournament will be for them in the final episode. With
that much talent, and two weeks together in a house to prepare exclusively for
the tournament, I would be shocked if the Rockdogs (who are the tournament’s
defending champions) didn’t win every game in the final episode, and win them
by double digits. We’ll see.
In the first episode, gay viewers will surely love how this
team of out-and-proud players takes it to the straight guys in a scrimmage with
the San Francisco Fire Department. Also fun to watch is how they school a group
of straight guys they play in a pick-up game (leaving one of them puking on the
sideline). As we hear several times from the players, they love being the "fags"
that beat the straight guys.
Teammates De Marco (left) & Rory
The show’s creator, Bill Kendall, wanted to take aim at the
stereotype that gay men can’t play sports, and this show delivers those goods
like the Mailman (that’s Utah Jazz great Karl Malone) delivers his.
However, the show also isn’t afraid to showcase these guys
being gayer than Dennis Rodman in a feather boa. You forget the dribbling and
dunks when these guys are naming designers with ease, calling teammates “she”
and snapping their fingers and spinning their necks around like "Men On Film".
Some might attack the show for those perceived
stereotypes, but it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed it the most, and the show’s
creators deserve praise for keeping it in there. As out former NBA player John
Amaechi, who stops by to offer some insight in the second episode, tells the
guys: you can play basketball and drink fruity drinks. They’re not mutually
It’s great that these guys get that, and that they’re not afraid
to fall into some stereotypes while at the same time shattering others. That
takes a lot more guts than being fake and ordering a Guinness when they’re
really dying for a Cosmo.