Readers of Compete, the gay sports magazine, and the expert jury have selected the 2009 (Gay) Athlete of the Year. The finalists were submitted to a panel of celebrity judges consisting of Sarah Burke, Bridget Pettis, David Bromstad, Evan Darling and Jeff Kagan, who chose three finalists: John Ensor (Washington, DC), Eddie Chen (Los Angeles, CA) and John Deffee (Phoenix, AZ) – all from the USA.
The jury decided that leading by example, John Deffee is the most positive role model that other gay athletes can look up to, thus honouring him with the title 2009 Athlete of the Year.
Under the leadership of Deffee, his team Phoenix Toros won the Gay Softball World Series. As coach and pitcher for the Toros John has experienced a lot of success and joy over the years, but this win was unlike any other. “The greatest thing for me was seeing how proud the boys were when they won. They made tremendous sacrifices. Seeing (the teammates celebrate) makes it all worthwhile,” said Deffee. By achieving such success on and off the court, Deffee serves as an example to hundreds of gay and lesbian softball players hoping to attain their own goals. For this reason, John Deffee has been selected as the Compete Magazine Athlete of the Year for 2009.
Deffee began his journey with the gay softball community first as an athlete. He soon took increased leadership roles with various teams, and this eventually lead him to the commissioner’s position. In the years as a player, coach and manager he encountered several obstacles. For one, he worked hard to get an unsponsored team through league play and to the World Series. And even after ascending to the commissioner’s seat, he had to put up with a negative perception of his team, arguably the best in the league. “As the only ‘A’ team, people should have respected us; but they didn’t,” said Deffee. John and his team members decided to help others with their hitting, fielding, running or throwing skills. Now his team members step up and serve as coach to teams without a leader. He himself also finds time during his hectic week to do the same. This resulted in his team being more respected in the league because they participate and try to help others.
The positive image he has tried to create for his team extends beyond the boundaries of the gay softball league in Phoenix. The Toros regularly challenge themselves by playing in mainstream tournaments. And they don’t just play, they also win! Their reputation has gotten so superior, in fact, that players from other teams in these tournaments have approached John about the availability of roster spots on the Toros. That’s a far cry from their first year of playing in such tournaments, at which they had to endure jokes about their sexual orientation, comments about them being “girls” and even one team that refused to shake their hands. Apparently, the numbers on the scoreboard have done a lot to change people’s attitudes. It’s the focus on that positive image that truly makes John stand out. Whether he is leading his team to a Sunday morning league win, a tournament championship over a “straight” team, or a successful run through the GSWS, John insists that they play for something greater than themselves. “We have a bigger obligation than just playing the game,” Deffee says, insisting that being respected and appreciated are equally important.