Our Smashdown can’t be limited to only 8 duels and a few other reviews! In order to showcase some more lovely sports romance, we need listicles!
This week Erin’s spotlighting some of the M/M sports romance that she’s read but hasn’t reviewed for the blog:
(I will note that because of the very small number of out queer players in professional sports, a lot of these narratives (in general) involve secret relationships, internalized homophobia, and coming out stories.)
Game Changer by Rachel Reid
At the time of publication, there were no out professional hockey players in the NHL, so Scott’s story is a what-if exploration of big feels. At first, Kip is happy just to be falling in love, and Scott can’t believe he’s so lucky as to have what he never thought he would, but before long the pressure of keeping the relationship a secret wears on the couple. The close narrative focus on Scott and Kip helps create the sense of isolation that the relationship has created for the protagonists. The lovely thing is, they never doubt their love for each other; this is a story that illustrates that love doesn’t magically make everything perfect, but it does provide support and safety when the world is scary and decisions are tough.
The Endgame by Riley Hart
Game Changer but make it football. I kid! But it is a sports coming out story. Anson is carrying a lot of internalized homophobia and is living a lie, sleeping with women so no one suspects his secret. It’s extremely taxing on his emotional health. Weston’s extremely conservative parents sent him to conversion therapy camp as a teen, so even though he’s a successful out and proud senator now, he understands that Anson needs a friend and keeps reaching out to let Anson know he’s not alone, even after Anson shoots him down. Then their friendship becomes physical, and everything changes. Weston knows that love alone won’t make the secret relationship last, but he’s braced for heartbreak. Seeing what Weston is willing to do for him makes Anson realize not only what he’s willing to do in return for Weston, but for himself as well.
Blindsided by Eden Finley
If you love a book where the LI uses a different name than everybody else, look no further! Miller’s been low-key in love with Talon since they were in college together. When they’re on the same team again years later, Talon seems to think everything is just fine, but revisiting their old group sexcapades proves it’s really not. Talon can’t figure what’s wrong, but when Miller is injured and facing the possible end of his career, Talon refuses to let go of their dream of winning the Super Bowl together just as much as he refuses to let go of the friend who’s burrowed so deep in his heart that he moved to Chicago instead of winning another ring with his old team. Their dynamic is just the sweetest.
Empty Net by Avon Gale
Can I interest you in some angst? There’s a lot in this book, between Isaac’s history of sex work due to his economic and housing insecurity (possibly discussed more in Power Play than in this book, but still discussed) and Laurent’s history of abuse and his eating disorder. There’s a lot here that warrants content notes. BUT when Laurent is traded to Issac’s team as a punishment, he finally finds a safe harbor with a man who should be his rival. They’re both goalies who need to be the one in the net in order to succeed, and yet they are able to support each other in really lovely ways, even as the story is fraught with emotional tension. Also, these are professional hockey players, but they’re playing ECHL hockey, which is a feeder for AHL hockey (a.k.a. the “farm teams” for the NHL), so they’re getting paid almost nothing and playing hard in hopes of being selected for an AHL spot.
Undone By You by Kate Meader
This story was teased in So Over You, so of course I immediately bought it and then Bad Decisions Book Clubbed it. And its sequel. If bedding-the-boss, secret-relationship: hockey edition interests you at all, I would recommend this book. Cade isn’t out – he doesn’t think his dad would take it well, and that’s scary, plus being the first out NHL player is not his dream – but he knows he really wants Dante, so he makes his play. Dante, who’s defending his dream job of being GM of a pro hockey team, really doesn’t want to risk anything by fooling around with a player. But Cade is just SO irresistible. Cade plays Dante really well to get what he wants – Dante’s a caregiver, and their age gap emphasizes that – but at the end of the day, they take care of each other, so the relationship is not one-sided.
Dirty Slide by Lauren Blakely and KD Casey
If you’d like to read a short, sexy romance without a lot of angst, this is a very fun book. I really love that runners and basemen can, like, have a little chat while they’re waiting for the next play. Anyway Chris and Josh are rivals on different teams, and they totally flirt during games together until Josh gets super grumpy about losing the World Series and kinda sorta has a snit about Chris playing dirty. Chris, being much more sunshiney, brushes off Josh’s grumbling because he a) won the World Series and b) still knows they could be great together. And he proves it when they have a quickie in a room where, let’s be honest, anybody could walk in. *Fans self*
Bonus points: if you’ve read Unwritten Rules, you’ll note that Zach and Eugenio are playing the World Series against each other. So that’s fun.
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