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Old Things That Are Tough To Explain: Playing A Game Called “Smear The Queer.”

September 7, 2021
image via wikimedia

A game called “Smear the Queer” probably sounds like hate speech today, but it wasn’t meant that way by the kids I knew who played it in the 1970s.

Smear the Queer was a simple game. All you needed was a bunch of guys and a football. You’d throw or toss the football, everybody would scramble for it, and the kid who picked it up would run around with it until he got tackled. Then the kid who got the tackle (or successfully scrambled for the ball afterwards) would run around with the football until he got tackled.

Whoever had the football would be the target. The target was the “queer.”

Smear the Queer was great because you didn’t need a particular number of guys to play. Anywhere from two to infinity would work. You could play it anywhere, in a yard, in a park, in the street. You could stop whenever you wanted, and newcomers could join. All you needed was a football and a bunch of guys willing to run around and get tackled.

Even though people today might associate the name with hate speech, “Smear the Queer” has a nice sound to it. The words “smear” and “queer” rhyme. It’s good to have a rhyme when you name your game.

“Tackle the Guy with the Ball” is kind of a boring name for a game. Yeah, it might not be considered hate speech and it’s an accurate description of the game, but it’s not very imaginative.

Despite the negative connotations of the word “queer,” even back when I played Smear the Queer, everybody wanted to be the queer. The whole point was to get the ball and then get tackled. It would have been a short game if nobody had ever gone for the ball. With no queer, there would have been nobody to get smeared.

Even if you think the name “Smear the Queer” is a form of hate speech, I’m not going to blame my pre-teen self for saying the name or playing the game. Somebody else named the game, and we didn’t have an alternative name. Maybe if we can ever find the person who came up with the name “Smear the Queer,” maybe we can blame him. Until then, I’m just the messenger.

I’ll admit, Smear the Queer would be considered sexist today because girls never played. We never asked girls to play, and they never volunteered. If a girl had ever asked, we probably would have let her play and then gone easy on her. If she had then lectured us about how she demanded to be treated equally, we probably would have broken her arm.

Not on purpose. It just might have happened that way.

I’m too old to play Smear the Queer now. I’d probably blow out my knee or get a herniated disc or do something else stupid. But I still have fond memories of Smear the Queer. I guess that when I talk about it from now on, I’ll have to call it something else.


There was another game that we played when I was a kid, but I don’t remember the name of it. A group of us would sneak up on a neighbor’s porch, ring the door bell, and run away.

What was that called again? Uh, something to do with… knocking?



Yeah… Never mind. I just remembered what it was called. I’m not going to write about that particular game. That one would be way too tough to explain.


Enough about me! What do you think? Is there another name for “Smear the Queer”? Is there anything wrong with the name “Smear the Queer”?

  1. I remember that “game” very well. It usually ended with some kid crying or blubbering.

  2. How about Tackle the Jackal?

    • That’s pretty good. “Tackle the Jackal” is a good alternative… until the word “jackal” becomes hate speech sometime in the next few years/decades.

  3. Captain Slow permalink

    Fun article, I spent many afternoons with friends playing smear. Curious though, what’s wrong with ding-dong ditch?

    • I was curious, so I looked it up. We always called it “ding-ding ditch” as well, but I grew up in the 80s.

      Apparently it was also called “n-word knocking”. =0

  4. Anonymous permalink

    I remember it was also called Kill the Carrier.

    • Thanks! I’ve never heard of Kill the Carrier. Kill the Carrier isn’t too bad. Alliteration isn’t as good as a rhyme, and the word ‘Kill’ is a bit violent, but at least it’s not Kill the Queer.

  5. Kevin McGuire permalink

    Enjoyed your piece. I have one of those “Mc” last names that rhymes with queer, so our neighborhood games invariably devolved into a game of “Smear McQueer. As such, I always seemed to have the ball more than my fair share. But, as your main article indicates, that wasn’t a problem. If the ganging-up ever got out of hand, my sister (3 years younger, but tougher and meaner than all of us), would jump in and even things out. Great memories growing up in the 60’s and 70’s.

  6. Chris permalink

    That was a fun game. Everything back then was more fun. I feel sorry for today’s coddled pc kids .

    • Donald R. Maust permalink

      It’s a very fun game that I remember playing in kindergarten. You know what else I remember from kindergarten? We were roughhousing and got shoved and slid on my back until I ended face up looking up a girl’s skirt, and wishing I had what she had. It’s not a matter of coddling, it’s about understanding that we all have different understandings because we grow up under different circumstances.

    • I don’t know if ‘everything’ was more fun, but I know what you mean. I kind of like internet scrolling.

  7. Gary h permalink

    I’m glad you have positive memories of this game, but it was also often used as an excuse to beat up and bully actually lgbt kids, or kids that others THOUGHT were gay. Having something thrown at you and then being tackled by a group of other kids isn’t necessarily fun when you didn’t volunteer to play.

    • I don’t know. We rarely threw the ball at anybody. Back then, if bullies wanted to antagonize somebody suspected of an alternative lifestyle, they just did it overtly by calling him names or beating him up. They didn’t need a game like Smear the Queer to bully. I’m not condoning that behavior; I’m just saying that’s how it was.

    • Anonymous permalink

      Yeah. All the gay boys hated it when other boys tackled them….. lmao

    • Anonymous permalink

      No ‘gay’ kid I ever grew up with wanted to play these ‘meathead’ games with us.
      They were typically hanging out with the hottest girls in our class and likely doing the things we all wanted to do.
      Stop with the ridiculous victimized bs..
      We all have a hard life.
      Stop being a victim

      • Anonymous permalink

        “We all had a hard life so stop trying to make me empathize, asshole.” – An interrogator when the victim starts crying.

        Yeah, no “gay” kid *wanted* to play those games. That’s the point. The meanest kid thought the game was funnest if they could make fellow students, just having fun, smear the weakest kid. It adds a whole peer-pressure element to the bullying. It only happens like once, and not everywhere, but it’s a quick and easy way to make a kid hate themselves for being weak and alone, even while loving the things that keep them that way.

  8. Wamaca Panj permalink

    I read somewhere years ago that it came from rugby in England. A sort of warm up game that the kids would play during practice. Queer meaning odd. As in Odd Man Out.

  9. David permalink

    After watching us play as kids, my grandfather referred to the game as kill the quarry. A game that he played in the early 1900s. Gay use to mean happy and queer used to be different or an exception. I can tell you from experience. The kids that play this game aren’t thinking about the name the name, they’re just having a whole lot of fun playing a game they love. A game with very few rules A game with very few rules. The last thing it needs is rules regarding its name.

  10. How sad our children today are shamed for not being “inclusive” and are called racist only because of the color of their skin. We would never let a girl play smear the queer but we had one tomboy girl we would let play “touch” football with so she could play without getting hurt. Today that little girl might be a testosterone filled, gender transitioned, raging maniac. No thanks.

  11. Anonymous permalink

    I/ we played the game in the 80’s. I first started playing about age 6 and played it until about 10 or 11. Did not really know what the name of game was referring to until about the time I/we no longer played the game.

  12. Daniel Rosen permalink

    There is nothing wrong with the title “smear the queer”. Years ago in the late 70s my mom dropped me off at a friend’s birthday party and I told her that’s what everyone was playing. She got extremely shocked offended and said “can’t you all just call it smear the football?” I laughed and laughed (on the inside of course).

  13. Daniel Rosen permalink

    There is nothing wrong with the title “smear the queer”. Years ago in the late 70s my mom dropped me off at a friend’s birthday party and I told her that’s what everyone was playing. She got extremely shocked and offended and said “can’t you all just call it smear the football?” I laughed and laughed (on the inside of course).

  14. Thomas Dominicak permalink

    I played I when I was a kid and yes sometimes in the streets of Miami.
    Came home bloody and bruised but I had fun and it made me tough

  15. Anonymous permalink

    Interesting the two distinctly separate tones voiced in the comments here. Several people convey feelings that “smear the queer” was a fearful event meant to

    • Anonymous permalink

      C’mon, was meant to what?! we need to know!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. To Stop School Shootings, Bring Back “Smear The Queer” – William’s Weighty Woolgatherings

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