Alone in the Game is a must-watch documentary that tells the story of the harsh realities that face LGBTQ athletes on a daily basis.
When Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out as gay, it was a game changer for not only college football but the entire sports world. When people think of football, it’s thought of as being a hyper-masculine sport. They don’t think of football players being gay. Sam’s coming out paved the way for NBA center Jason Collins to come out as a gay man. Collins lived in denial as many other athletes did. Unfortunately for Michael Sam, his coming out ended what could have been a promising career before it ever started.
When one plays in either the NFL or NBA, players tend to have a shorter career when compared to baseball. It’s because of their earnings potential that they feel required to hide who they are. Living a lie may benefit their bank account but in the long term, it means a lot of hiding from those who they are not out to at the time.
Unfortunately, when a player comes out as LGBTQ, it usually means bad news in professional sports. They stand to lose professional sponsorships. It’s not right but it is what it is. At one point, MLS forward Robbie Rogers was the only openly gay player in the major professional leagues. Among 4,696 athletes playing in the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLS, there were zero openly gay athletes when he retired. Of course, this also says something about those playing in both the WNBA and the Women’s Professional Soccer League when their numbers get ignored in those stats.
It’s no surprise that HB2 comes up in discussion. The awful North Carolina bill led both the NCAA and NBA to revoke their games from North Carolina. This is the same bill that forced my hand in coming out as transgender on Facebook, well before I was ready to do so. Try having to talk about this bill when you’re only out to a small circle of friends and family members. It meant having to live a double life so I know full well what many of these athletes went through.
“I have a unique responsibility as commissioner of this league to uphold that legacy,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said on HB2 and the NBA’s stances toward equality, inclusion, diversity, and respect. It was a decision that got great respect in my book.
After Michael Sam, Riley Tindol may be the most prominent college football player to come out as gay. Tindol played football for Vanderbilt University but living a double life took a psychological toll. As with anyone struggling, he tried to pray the gay away. Tindol would eventually come out on the ride back to Nashville following a bowl game. The football player comes from a small town where coming out would no doubt have been devastating. Looking at how things are in the south, the battle for gay rights is far from over.
When Collins came out, he benefited from former NBA player John Amaechi having come out before him. Amaechi came out in early 2007. This led to a fiery reaction from Tim Hardaway. Reaction among NBA players ranged from mixed to positive but it’s nice to see how Hardaway was educated and became one of the first to show their support for Collins.
Gus Kenworthy may have won the silver medal during the 2014 Olympics but he knew the consequences of coming out. When asked who his celebrity crush was, the Olympian responded by saying it was Miley Cyrus. It had a devastating effect on his relationship with his boyfriend at the time.
Trevor Betts is a transgender wrestler and he gets one of the larger profiles. While his mother and brother are supportive, his dad is a bigot. There’s no doubt that Trevor is a person who would have benefited from having a trans role model while growing up as many of us would. I had never heard of Trevor going into the documentary. I had heard of Mack Beggs, the trans wrestler that made national news as a result of Texas law in 2017. Betts’ story is one that many other trans people are familiar with. As a trans woman myself, it’s nice to see us represented in the form of Betts and cyclist Chris Mosier.
Layana White and Haley Videckis are among those athletes who have suffered from discrimination as a result of their relationship. Both basketball players transferred to Pepperdine but because they were in a relationship, they battled discrimination from the university. What’s really awful is that the NCAA refused to even get involved. Like really?!? This led to a lawsuit against the school but the jury ruled against them.
Ryan O’Callaghan shared the reactions from his peers when he came out as gay in 2017. Robert Kraft couldn’t have been more supportive. That’s the thing with NFL players–they have a way of surprising you. Aaron Rogers, teammates, and coaches could not have been more supportive!
Megan Rapinoe is among the athletes profiled. Kevin Arnovitz and LZ Granderson are the only journalists interviewed while former ESPN president John Skipper was also interviewed. There was a missed opportunity to include ESPN’s Christina Karhl.
Alone in the Game is just a small part of the conversation but is important in moving the conversation forward. If there’s any legacy to the sports documentary, it’s that LGBTQ athletes shouldn’t be afraid of living an authentic life.
DIRECTORS: Natalie Metzger & Michael Rohrbaugh
SCREENWRITERS: David McFarland, Natalie Metzger, Peter Seroufim, Mari Walker
FEATURING: Adam Silver, John Skipper, Kevin Arnovitz, LZ Granderson, Michael Sam, Jason Collins, Robbie Rogers, Gus Kenworthy, Trevor Betts, Riley Tindol, John Amaechi, Chris Mosier, Megan Rapinoe, Ryan O’Callaghan, Layana White, Haley Videckis, Eric Fanning
Alone in the Game screened during the 2018 San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival in the Showcase program. The documentary will air June 28, 2018 on the Audience Network at 8 PM ET/PT.