With professional athletes coming out being an important story right now in the LGBT community, several documentaries chronicling the lives of these people are beginning to emerge. One of the latest is Michiel Thomas’s Game Face. The film tells the story of transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox and gay basketball player Terrence Clemens, two athletes sharing parallel struggles in their quest to find respect in the sports world.

There is much progress still to be made towards acceptance and understanding towards LGBT athletes in the sports world. Any documentary seeking to tell the stories of these people is a positive step in the right direction. This film finds two compelling narratives and presents them in such a manner that they have the ability to change people’s minds. Through honesty and integrity, and a little support from a famous gay athlete already blazing a trail, we follow Fallon and Terrence on a journey to self acceptance and helping others by talking publicly about the challenges they have faced.

Transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox

Fallon Fox is a transgender Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, the first female fighter to be out publicly. By the time she begins her MMA training, she has already transitioned to being a woman but she fears that she will be found out. If her trainer, other athletes, and her gym find out, what will that mean? Will anyone want to fight her? Will the reputation of the gym be damaged? As she works her way up the ranks and starts building a name for herself, a day comes after a match where her secret comes out in the media. She receives some support but ultimately she is faced with a deluge of controversy, people saying she shouldn’t be allowed to compete, accusations of unfair advantages, confusion, fear, and mistruths being thrown in her direction. She does her best to not let the negativity affect her and wherever she goes she continues educate those around her who may not understand her situation. As the controversy grows, she is forced to focus on the fighting to prove that she is worthy of being there. The flip-flopping messages of support and hateful criticism she continues to receive demonstrate the need for her to continue being an activist outside of the ring. Progress still needs to be made, as she is still continually denied her license to fight in the UFC league. They don’t yet believe she qualifies to fight in the women’s league even though she meets the International Olympic Committee’s requirements for transgender athletes.

Terrence Owen longs to play basketball professionally. Coming out of high school, he did not have any luck finding college scholarships to play and ended up having a run-in with the law and being jailed for 10 months. Upon his release he finds a trainer that is supportive and non-judgemental. The trainer worked with Terrence to develop goals and used a contact of his to find him a scholarship at a small two-year college. His goal was to play at that school and then hopefully be scouted to play for a large 4-year college and go on to play professionally. Under all of this, he was struggling to keep the fact that he is gay a secret, fearing what revealing this would do to his scholarship and career chances. Over the next two years, he continues to feel like an outsider from the rest of the guys in the locker room and this burden is chipping away at him. Along the way, NBA player Jason Collins publicly came out as gay. Terrence saw this as a beacon of hope and reached out to Collins for advice, which he freely offered. Collins told him that no matter what, he had to be truthful to himself. When the team wins a championship that year, he is offered several scholarships to play at other schools.   At that point, he decides to finally tell his teammates, coach, and friends that he’s gay. When he finally comes out, he receives nothing but support, even from those he wasn’t expecting.

The film stumbles a bit at the beginning as it struggles to find its footing. The setup and introduction to these two subjects is blunt and somewhat confusing. However, once we get to know these athletes, the film is strongest when it finds the intimacy of its two subjects. Beneath all the controversy and hate is a fight common to most in the LGBT community. The impact is felt when we get glimpses of the ripple effect these coming out stories are having on people.

Continuing to tell these stories is important. There are many educational strides still to be made and each one of these challenges people’s perceptions and attitudes. It is hoped that an individual’s outlook is changed for the better. That is the power that cinema can have and why it’s important to keep pushing forward in this fight for equality and respect in sports.

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