Gay on the gridiron

The phrase “a very special episode” usually makes me break out in hives, but Necessary Roughness delivers an interesting look at the issue of homosexuality in major league sports in a two-part story arc premiering tonight on USA Network.
For any readers inclined to shriek, “Spoiler alert!,” be forewarned: I’m about to reveal a couple of story points, but (a) USA is hardly making a secret that tonight’s episode deals with the revelation that a member of the show’s fictional team, the New York Hawks, is gay and (b), unless you’re paying no attention at all, you’ll know which player it is within the first few minutes of the episode. OK. Final warning.
The closeted player, we quickly learn, is quarterback Rex Evans (guest star Travis Smith), whom we first met in last week’s episode but who, based on dialogue, has been playing for the Hawks for some time now. Rex is a golden boy, but recently his on-field performance has taken a dive because, as star shrink Dani Santino (Callie Thorne) soon susses out, Rex’s beau-on-the-down-low (guest star Neil Hopkins) is sick of living in the shadows and living in fear of paparazzi.
As Rex nervously ponders his boyfriend’s ultimatum to come out or lose him, the show examines how much it would cost a player still in the middle of an active career to reveal that he isn’t straight.
“I don’t want to be Jackie Robinson,” Rex says to Dani, reluctant to be the first pro football star to leave the closet. “I just want to play ball.”
Next week’s episode continues the story as guest star Jeffrey Nordling appears as a public relations expert hired to coordinate Rex’s revelation, but as everyone quickly learns, it’s all but impossible to control information in a Twitter-driven world of instant news, where a rumor can fly around the world in a nanosecond.
Although Necessary Roughness is set in the greater New York City area, the show is filmed in Atlanta, where featured guest actor Smith is a fast-rising star on the local theater scene. Although the series often uses Atlanta actors in supporting character parts, Smith is among the first “hometown boys” who has bagged such a pivotal role and he really delivers, conveying both Rex’s macho bluster and his private vulnerability. There’s typically strong work from core players Thorne, Marc Blucas and Scott Cohen as well.
It’ll be interesting to see whether we ever see or hear mention of Rex in the future, if USA orders another season of this series. One of the peculiar features of most “very special episodes” is that they often revolve around a character who has a seismic impact on the lives of the main characters, yet somehow is never heard from again.

2 thoughts on “Gay on the gridiron

  1. James Fisher

    Your excellent commentary makes me think of the Richard Greenberg play, TAKE ME OUT, which poses the same question about a major professional baseball team. If I remember correctly, in that play the gay ballplayer is murdered by a redneck teammate with various ulterior motives.

    Reply
    1. chan1001 Post author

      Thanks. I remember seeing TAKE ME OUT quite a few years ago, but have no recollection of how it ended. I do remember a redneck player, but I’m not sure the story ended with a homicide. I could be wrong.

      Reply

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