“Necessary Roughness” Tackles a Gay Football Player

Actor Travis Smith plays QB Rex Evans on Necessary Roughness
(photo: USA Network)

Homosexuality in professional sports – it’s a hot topic these days, with an implicit countdown clock for the first U.S. professional team sports player to anounce he’s gay. No doubt there are already gay pro athletes, but no active player in the NBA, NFL, NHL or major league baseball has ever come out of the closet. The first brave guy to do so will be a hero to many, a modern day Jackie Robinson.

Everybody remembers Jackie Robinson, but do you know who the second black major league baseball player was? Probably not. This fact alone should be a strong inducement for some brave yet currently closeted gay professional athlete to take the leap now, before someone else beats them to that place in history.

But professional football is arguably the sport that would be least accommodating to a gay player. There’s that notorious locker room machismo, the heavy christianist influence (Tebowing), and the steady barrage of ill considered homophobic comments from young players trying to prove their manhood.

USA Network’s Necessary Roughness spends its next two episodes exploring what would happen if a professional football player suddenly came out to his teammates and to the public. The show took the task seriously, even enlisting Howard Bragman as a consultant to advise on how such a history making event would play out. (There’s actually a character modeled on Bragman, a media relations guru named “Glen Purlman” who is brought in to help the gay player navigate the coming out process.)

The show managed to realistically capture the claustrophobia and inner torment a closeted football player would suffer just by being in that environment. And they smartly chose not to make him some sort of saint, or his more bigoted teammates irredeemable villains. The gay QB freely admits he doesn’t want to be a hero or role model, he just wants to play football and some of his behavior, particularly in this Wednesday’s episode, could be seen as childish and self-serving. Still, the show does a great job illustrating the torment of the closet he is trapped in. For instance, his quiet misery when clueless teammates make what they think are innocuous gay jokes, or how he’s forced to lie about the most important relationship in his life. It is clear that his violent outbursts and other bad behavior directly stem from being closeted in such a hostile environment.

Thanks to those touches, mainstream (straight) audiences should be able to empathize with the character’s dilemma, even if he ultimately is not the hero of the story. (Without giving too much away, that role is left to another character who comes to his defense and lends support at a pivotal moment.)

Mehcad Brooks plays wide receiver Terence King

We haven’t previously devoted much coverage to Necessary Roughness, but we might have to start. The episode which airs this Wednesday and the season finale on Feb 20 together make for a pretty good entree into the series. 

Necessary Roughness airs Wednesdays at 10pm on USA Network.


Note: In a press release the network explains that the Necessary Roughness gay athlete storyline is just one part of their Character’s Unite initiative.

Characters Unite Month launched February 1st in an effort to build on USA Network’s year-round public service commitment to address social injustices and bridge cultural divides.  To see more videos of characters from USA Network shows stating what they won’t stand for and to learn more about the Character’s Unite cause head to http://charactersunite.com.


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