Currently, there are 4,696 professional athletes in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS and not a single player is openly gay. LA Galaxy player Robbie Rogers, who retired in November 2017, is the only openly gay athlete to have competed in professional sport. His choice did not encourage more athletes to do the same. Through personal stories and industry perspectives, “Alone in The Game,” explores why. It’s an eye-opening documentary about the challenges LGBTQ athletes face when they are judged for their sexual orientation or gender identity rather than their performance.
For fans and players alike, sport offers camaraderie and acceptance. “Alone in The Game” asks viewers to think about this idea in the context of the LGBTQ player’s experience when the fear of revealing your authentic self takes all that away. Through interviews with LGBTQ athletes, the film shines a light on the psychic costs they must pay within the intense environment of sport. Their personal stories are compelling.
In addition to Rogers, Olympic medalists Gus Kenworthy and Megan Rapinoe, former NFL lineman Ryan O’Callaghan and former NBA center Jason Collins are interviewed. They speak about the fear of being discovered, which for some lead to paranoia and for most, depression. Several college athletes also share their personal stories including Riley, whose intense anxiety over being found out and consequently losing football, lead to several suicide attempts and lifelong emotional scars. Riley comments that the hyper-masculinity of football provided “good cover” but it came at the high price of having to “be somebody else all the time.”
The film also makes a point about the environment of risk aversion common in sport. It’s the idea that a coach might say: “I don’t have a problem with gays but what if my star player does?” Combined with the reality of sport as big business, this attitude perpetuates a culture of exclusion and discrimination, keeping LGBTQ athletes silent.
Those who aren’t silent, like Riley, who eventually finds his place with a different college football team and Trevor, a transgender high school athlete who is accepted by his wrestling team after being rejected by his fellow football players, offer hope that the attitude toward LGBTQ athletes is slowly changing. At least on the field. Trevor’s story, which includes footage of his legal fight against his father, who refuses to give him permission to change his name, is a raw personal account that highlights the pain many LGBTQ people face in their family relationships.
“Alone in The Game” is an important and empowering platform from which LGBTQ athletes are able to share their stories. As former ESPN President John Skipper says in the film’s opening scenes: “When you become a great professional athlete, you sacrifice many things. One of those things shouldn’t be who you are.”
“Alone in The Game” premieres on AT&T Audience Network on June 28 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.