Image 1: ALFA Omega softball team, Atlanta, Georgia, August 1974. Courtesy of Lorraine Fontana. Image 2: Members of the ALFA Omega softball team, Atlanta, Georgia, August 1974. Courtesy of Lorraine Fontana.
ALFA hollered gay cheers and eschewed competitive norms. They rotated players equally, which allowed Vicki, who was in her own words “by no means a jock,” a place on the field. As a player-manager, Charlotte taught her teammates how to play and wrote team updates in ALFA’s newsletter. The ALFA Omegas did not have a male coach like other teams, instead creating the player-manager role in an effort to be truly egalitarian. In our interview, Charlotte remembered, “We didn’t do too badly. We ended up with two teams. We had ALFA 1 and ALFA 2, because there were so many people who wanted to be involved. So it became a big thing. It was a good way of actually marketing the organization. Because we would have games every week and . . . it gave us an avenue to socialize after the games.”13
After wins and losses, teams went to the Tower Lounge—a straight working-class bar during the week and a dyke bar on the weekends—or back to the ALFA house. As Vicki put it, “I’m not a drinker, but at certain points that was really where lesbian space was, in the bars. Very early women’s music concerts were in the bars and we always went there after the game.” ALFA’s presence at bars, on fields, and in era marches elevated the organization’s status, increasing its profile in Atlanta. As a part of their politics of visibility, ALFA saw softball as a political strategy and, as Charlotte noted, a way to build membership. After the summer of 1974, ALFA membership grew from thirty to one hundred.14
ALFA activism encompassed commonly understood political organizing and what is sometimes dismissed as “cultural feminism”—attention to media representation, communal living, and softball. While outside of the political establishment, cultural feminism offers an experience of liberation all its own. “We ran onto the field, most of us with our hairy legs and hairy armpits, sweating in the sun, exercising our muscles,” Vicki recalled in her 1976 article, “Come Out Slugging!” For jocks and non-jocks alike, playing softball was a way to connect to their physicality. Vicki wrote that “softball made us feel more powerful because we were learning to use our bodies as physical instruments.” ALFA’s softball strategy was an embodied form of activism.15
Athletics as an expression of female agency was in line with the movements for women’s physical culture in the US after Title IX’s passage. In 1972, tennis star Billie Jean King was named Sportswoman of the Year and shortly thereafter prevailed in the nationally televised “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs. The Women’s Professional Softball League formed in 1975, and the 1977 International Women’s Year conference in Houston included a torch run from Seneca Falls to Texas that passed through Georgia. For feminists nationwide, activity and sports were exciting forms of resistance, camaraderie, and personal growth. Harnessing this energy, softball in particular became an organizing tool for lesbian feminists across the South. Out-teams sprung up in cities such as Memphis, Tennessee; Lexington, Kentucky; Columbia, South Carolina; and Athens, Georgia. In Memphis, NOW formed a softball team as part of organizing efforts to ratify the ERA, creating an opportunity to meet new friends and build an activist network. But softball also raised tensions. Historians Stephanie Gilmore and Elizabeth Kaminski chronicle how the creation of the popular now softball team “with its suggestion of informal lesbian solidarity” caused friction within Memphis now in the late 1970s. While now showed support for lesbian members in the mid-1970s, by the end of the decade, rising right-wing Christian rhetoric in Memphis began to impact the organization. In 1982, NOW split over the “softball” issue. Softball became a euphemism for lesbian presence in NOW, as conservative members increasingly expressed distress that attention to gay issues detracted from the organization’s mission to support “family, women’s safety, and the era.” For ALFA Omegas, softball was a way to be out and release stress from closeted work environments and tension-riddled coalitions.16
ALFA’s team transformed the City League and was changed in turn by interactions with league players. While ALFA members lauded themselves for demonstrating how out and non-hierarchical a team could be, they still learned from seasoned players. Enke writes that “women of an established working-class softball culture inspired and challenged self-identified feminists.” At the Tower Lounge, Vicki remembers women “who had been lesbian in the 1950s and ’60s, who had come up through the school of hard knocks of lesbian life. As I met this group of lesbian southerners, I was very drawn to all of them, feeling that each of them had a piece of history that helped me to understand the world I was entering.” The exchange was two-way and often crossed generation and class lines. For the weekend regulars at the Tower Lounge the influx of ALFA players and friends brought new energy. Elizabeth Knowlton, an ALFA archivist and Omega votary recalled, “We didn’t have many public places. The Tower Lounge was really important to us. What we found out very soon in the women’s movement was that if you had a critical mass, you changed the space. At ALFA, we did everything in a mass!” For older lesbians, the post-game softball crowd offered an opportunity to teach as well as learn about activism in the city. Whether at the bar or on the field, ALFA impacted lesbian spaces by being out and putting forth a feminist politic.17