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Local LGBTQ players deliver message with social-justice T-shirts
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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David Rill and a few friends joined a new team this summer in the abbreviated Open Sunday Softball League, run by the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ), and they needed jerseys for the Howard Brown Weakened Warriors, coached by Michael Richardson.

"I saw some Major League Baseball players gearing up for the start of the [MLB] season wearing Black Lives Matters shirts, both in the wake of the protests and in support of their teammates," Rill said. "I thought [that] would be a great way to support those on our team and in the league and stand in solidarity with many others."

Rill and his mates "thought it would be great to support Tee Mart each week with a different message," he said. "Toward the end of the season [in late August], we wanted to make sure the message was more than just performative and put it into action, thus the idea of the supply drive was born."

Message-driven shirts were sold at the Sunday softball games. There were different shirts each week with a message for teammates and some other people in the league who wanted to participate or wear one. The shirts were intended to support a Black-owned business, Tee Mart Apparel in Rogers Park, and highlight them as an option for people who might need apparel or jerseys this season or in the future while also starting a conversation or making a statement in support and advocacy for different groups who need support in and out of CMSA.

"Throughout the season, more and more people asked how they could get a shirt so with the help of Myles Lawter, we thought we could turn it into a supply drive: Donate $10 to help offset the cost of the shirt with the promise of bringing an item to the fields to support Brave Space Alliance, [an] LGBTQIA+-run food pantry in the Midwest, located on Chicago's South Side.

"We've spent a little more than $1,000 at Tee Mart Apparel [printing shirts], and we raised close to $500 for Brave Space in addition to all of the supplies that folks [donated]."

CMSA representatives, including Rill, delivered the supplies and cash donation to Brave Space in late August.

"We never set a [financial] goal; this was more about sustainable support of Black-owned businesses that has to carry beyond 2020," Rill said. "Raising awareness for them as well for Brave Space were the primary goals.

"I've actually been humbled by the amount of support folks outside of Chicago have had for the cause," after learning about the drive on social media.

"The people [who Brave Space Alliance] serve directly aligns with the LGBTQIA+ community that makes up the majority of CMSA, so it was an easy choice. I think CMSA has an opportunity to seek out and uplift Black-led groups while making our membership aware of local non-profits that are truly making a big difference in a lot of people's lives."

Rill said the campaign has been a league-wide drive—and beyond, thanks to social media. Case in point, heading into the last week of the regular-season, a friend of Rill's offered to cover the costs of shirts for the entire Howard Brown Warriors team—and the person doesn't even live in Chicago.

"I have been surprised in the best of ways by folks who just want to help out, but don't know where to start, so it's given them a chance to talk to myself, Myles, or one of our friends about groups to find and other resources available to them if they want to continue to educate themselves or use their position to give back."

The weekly shirts ( ranging in price from $12 to $18 ) had simple messages with simple lettering, such as "Black Lives Matter," "Black Trans Lives Matter," "Justice for Breonna Taylor," "Protect Trans Youth" and "Support Chicago's Black Voices."

Six of the nine rec division had at least some players wearing the shirts.

Rill told Windy City Times, "I really only expected myself [and two new teammates to the team] to wear them. ... It was great to see so many people reach out and ask about them. By the end of the season, we had folks from all over the league, folks who do not play in CMSA, and even folks who don't live in Chicago wearing the 'Support Chicago's Black Voices' shirt.

"It was rad to have genuine conversations with people about things they could do. There are different avenues of advocacy and action that everyone can take … I think we did a great job of showing that and talking to folks about that when it would be [asked at the fields]."

Their social-media message even reached Major League Baseball.

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Amir Garrett replied, "Wow, this is awesome" about their first Black Lives Matter online post.

"I grew up in Columbus, Ohio so I'm a huge Reds fan," Rill said. "It was really cool to have him react positively on a post for some random people in Chicago."

Rill, 35, who lives in Rogers Park, is the Eastern region director of field training at Noodles & Company. He has played CMSA sports for eight years, including softball, volleyball ( indoor and beach ), kickball and dodgeball. He also has played CMSA flag football.

"I think my favorite moment in CMSA was in football a few years back," Rill said. "My good friend Karl was our quarterback and with time was running out at the end of a game, he told me to take a snap as QB and just launch a Hail Mary [pass]. I had never played QB before, but the ball fell perfectly into his arms and he scored a touchdown. That ended up happening once more, leaving me with a pretty sparkling stat line for someone who typically plays on the offensive line."

One of his CMSA softball highlights was turning a triple play last season.

A softball injury also stands out, specifically, how it happened.

"One of [my former] teams were fighting back through a tournament bracket and the game went into extra innings. I was coaching first base when one of our outfielders had a walk-off hit to win the game. I jumped up in excitement and tore my calf muscle and couldn't play in the championship [game]. It's a pretty funny story to tell when you lead with, 'One time I got injured coaching first base …'"

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