“GAME FACE”— Two Underdogs

“Game Face”

Two Underdogs

Amos Lassen

Michiel Thomas’s “Game Face” presents honest opinions and interviews from athletes who feel held back  by feeling discrimination about their performance based on their personal lifestyle and sexuality.  They become determined and rise against the odds and show their peers and the LGBTQ community that they’re worthy contenders  and not just in their sport, but in society.

The film follows two underdogs: transgender Mixed Martial Arts fighter Fallon Fox and Terrence Clemens, an openly gay College basketball player.  Other than being athletes facing unfair judgement, Fox and Clemens prove themselves to be role models by always taking the high road.  Clemens’ criminal past gave him a wake-up call to self-improve, and Fox’s spirit is as unbreakable as her physical build.  

The film doesn’t go beyond being a typical recollection of inspiring underdog stories.  It is not as strong as other films on the topic but it certainly should be seen.

 In the wake of the high-profile coming out announcements of professional athletes like basketball player Jason Collins and football player Michael Sam “Game Face” could not be more topical. The documentary goes behind the headlines to share the intimate and emotional stories of two queer athletes of  Fallon Fox and Terrence Clemens.

Clemens bore the brunt of homophobia when an unfounded rumor spread about him having sex with a guy. He faced fear, just like all closeted queer people f: he was outcast by his teammates and friends. Meanwhile, Fox also experienced one of the worst outcomes of coming out: her parents rejected her when she announced she was transitioning from male to female.

When Fox is later outed in the media, it becomes clear that her biggest challenge is educating people. Misunderstanding, assumptions, and confusion about transgender athletes are everywhere and largely incorrect. Many assume that Fox has advantages as a “man” competing against women. Not only does Fox have to steel herself against boos from the crowd, but she also has to raise awareness about what being transgender really is.

The film follows Fox’s journey as she trains not only to compete but to persevere against criticism and media attention that distract from the sport. “I’m a fighter,” she says. “I never take the easy way out.”

Thomas skillfully interweaves the two stories to illuminate the similarities and differences in the challenges that the two athletes face. (Racial identity here is not addressed; both athletes are black.) What appears central to both of their stories is how they appear, initially, to be alone in their struggle to break new ground.

Hope, accordingly, comes in the form of support from straight allies and other queer athletes at Pride parades, awards events, and social networking. While LGBT acceptance and rights have made gains overall, coming out in sport remains a risk, as interviewee Jervon Wright relates how he lost his college basketball scholarship when he was seen kissing his boyfriend.

Although both athletes share the goal of simply being accepted like everyone else, the truth is that as pioneers nothing will ever be simple or like everyone else. Luckily, both of our subjects seem to be up for what is required of them in the hope that in the future, others will get the chance to live out their dreams.

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 is  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-judgmental. 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.

At the beginning the film struggles to find its footing. The setup and introduction to these two subjects is blunt and somewhat confusing. However, once we get to know them, 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 see the ripple effect these coming out stories are having on people.

Continuing to tell these stories is so very 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. Here is the power that cinema can have and why it’s important to keep pushing forward as we fight for equality and respect in sports.

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