Alone in the Game (David McFarland/Natalie Metzger/Michael Rohrbaugh, 2018) 3½ out of 4 stars.
A moving and well-told profile of the challenges faced by LGBTQ athletes, Audience Network’s Alone in the Game – from first-time writer/producer David McFarland and directors Natalie Metzger (Special Blood) and Michael Rohrbaugh (making his feature debut) – offers profound documentary truths for all to see. It’s already difficult being gay in this world; now try adding the pressure of millions of fans’ expectations, along with the business imperatives of professional sports leagues. The result is a roiling cauldron of suppressed identities and emotions that bode well for no one. The unfortunate souls who must navigate these treacherous, competitive waters are not just “alone in the game,” but alone in the crowd, adrift in a sea of their own misery.
Or so it seems, at the start. By the end of this compelling, just-over-90-minute movie, however, we follow enough positive trajectories to emerge feeling as if things are getting better. Today’s politicians in power may not always be so helpful to the cause of civil and LGBTQ rights, but there are enough allies within the pro and college sports worlds that a number of our main characters experience encouraging change. From the high-school trans boy who longs to officially become Trevor (from Veronica) and join the wrestling team, to the college football player who comes out to his coaches, to the Olympic and professional athletes who open up about their love lives, we get a glimpse of what the future might hold if only the human tendency towards tribal prejudice can be overcome. When the film works, which it almost always does (as long as it avoids the pitfalls of sentimental promotional storytelling), it is nothing short of profound.
I particularly admire the way McFarland, Metzger and Rohrbaugh square the difficult circle of puncturing the inflated balloon of hype that drives our obsession with sports while simultaneously admiring those paragons of the athletic breed whose example we should all emulate. We meet folks like soccer star Robbie Rogers, Vanderbilt’s Director of Athletics David Williams III, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, former Pepperdine basketball players (and romantic partners) Layana White and Haley Videckis, Olympic skier (and silver medalist) Gus Kenworthy, triathlete Chris Mosier, former New England Patriot Ryan O’Callaghan, ESPN journalist LZ Granderson, and many more. They are an inspiring bunch, offering first despair and then hope, showing us the way forward to a more just universe. As a group, they prove that being a gay athlete need not lead to solitude, for they are all together, in the game.