San Diego players huddle in F(l)ag Football (Steve Dong Lee)

When will the major American pro sports leagues allow closeted players to be openly gay? Until that day comes there are denizens of gay men who have initiated their own sports clubs to fight the stigma against homosexuality in sports. This documentary follows some of the players from three teams involved in the National Gay Flag Football League (NGFFL) on their way to the 2012 Gay Bowl in Phoenix.

Former NGFFL quarterback and theater producer Seth Greenleaf’s film asks all the questions inherent in the football vs. homosexuality debate, while revealing a lesser-seen part of the gay community.  As this film depicts, the players are capable of divorcing sex with contact sports. They may even be able to understand better than their straight counterparts that the reason why they play sports is secondary to winning and primarily to find communion with their teammates.

The beginning addresses our country’s troubled view of masculinity. As one player laments, the American image of a football player is the “John Wayne type and ‘gay’ doesn’t reside in that world.” The men in F(l)ag Football are portrayed as being caught between two worlds, the heterosexist dominated world of contact sports and also the gay community, which they don’t necessarily feel a part of, either.

After the five-minute introductory sequence it becomes painfully obvious these guys are all jocks. A lot of F-bombs are dropped, and they speak in sentences decorated with clichéd macho-isms. Many of these athletes were brought up with the casual homophobia and systemic heterosexism that even they write off as just how coaches talk to players, how players talk to each other. For every time one of them says something eloquent, he treads backwards into an archaic view of masculinity, such as when player Wade Davis says, “We’ve created this nationwide narrative that gay men aren’t as tough,” but when confronted by a straight man, he goes on to say, “We can go outside right now and I’ll run through you like a Mack truck, and you tell me if gay guys aren’t as tough as straight guys.”

Is that what masculinity is? A never-ending tackling contest?

On the opposite side of the same coin, these men have found that looking for the bonds they seek in the traditional gay scene can be problematic. In some cases, it promotes unhealthy lifestyle choices and can be image-obsessed and ruthlessly judgmental. One player from Phoenix says when you approach someone at a gay bar, the assumption is almost always that you want to have sex instead of simply to become friends.

Not that the flag footballers don’t have their own drama. The major backstory is between the New York Warriors and Los Angeles Motion. Cyd Zeigler was the captain who led the Warriors to their three championships before he relocated to LA and took over as captain of LA Motion. The first year he was there, they won the championship. This documentary takes place during the season the Warriors (named after the cult 1979 street gang film) vie to take back their title. Ex-NFL player Wade Davis now leads the team. Davis’s pro career was cut short by a knee injury. As he lists his professional resume, he rounds it off by adding that during all of his accomplishments he also “happened to be gay.”

The final third becomes a highlight reel of the championship tournament in Phoenix. If someone came into the film with roughly the last half hour left and watched the game footage, they would not have known these men happened to be gay.

In a technical or intellectual sense, F(l)ag Football is by no means a great film. However, as a sociological study, it is quite fascinating. For the past 10 or so years, journalists have been decrying the death of queer spaces. The common complaint is that social networking and apps like Grindr and Scruff have been ushering the end of gay bars, where young people traditionally have found their communities. However, films like F(l)ag Football illuminate that there are gay men out there creating alternatives such as the NGFFL. So, thanks to social media, strides in LGBTQ+ rights, and visibility, we’re not losing queer spaces at all. We’re expanding them so they encompass a wider variety of queer identities. Founding flag football member Jim Buzinski is spot-on: “Advocacy and activism come in many ways other than just marches.”

Produced and Directed by Seth Greenleaf
Released by Abramorama
USA. 94 min. Not rated