Out To Win is an interesting and intimate documentary of LGBT sporting history over the past 40 years.
Beginning as a retrospective, Out To Win looks at how attitudes and conceptions of gay sports stars has changed since 1975 when David Kopay came out as the first professional gay NFL player. Featuring interviews with several now-retired athletes including Kopay, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, all of whom have lived through scandal and prejudice and had their careers damaged as a result of their sexuality being made public.
In the telling of their now historical comings-out, these elder statesmen and women of gay sports are able to tell their stories in a non-sensationalised context, allowing them to discuss openly and honestly how things have changed since their (often forced) exposure and the work they’ve done to ease the process for younger athletes who’ve found themselves in similar situations.
This first section serves very much as a historical document, with the retrospective chronologically giving way to modern-day gay athletes including Britney Gryner and Charlotte LeBonte.
In fact, LeBonte publicly announced her coming out via an article she published during the filming of the documentary; it’s hard for any filmmaker to get any more current and contemporary than watching the reactions roll in on her Twitter feed. It’s compelling and ultimately uplifting viewing that must have been a huge gamble for the Director, and happily it pays off in spades.
Of course, no documentary on such a divisive and controversial subject can be entirely positive, and Out To Win remembers this, telling the tragic story of Justin Fashanu, the only UK athlete featured in the documentary, who came out while still a professional footballer in the late 1980s and took his own life in 1998. The documentary’s overall tone though is of hopeful progression, but deals with these sadder elements of LGBT sporting history without romanticising or over-dramatising, choosing instead to highlight the progress and good work done in the name of Justin since his death.
The final section of Out To Win looks to the future, with interviews with up-and-coming, soon-to-be professional out gay athletes such as Conor Martens and Chandler Whitney, whose stories of internal turmoil and acceptance from their team-mates, not to mention the wider sporting community, are a hopeful counterpoint to earlier scandals, while still underlining the transformative and often traumatic process coming out can be.
While we see a flash of Matthew Mitcham’s cheeky smile and Tom Daley’s bum mid-dive, both are, to the British viewer, conspicuous by their absence from any further involvement. This, however, does not detract in any way from the stories told, with the filmmaker preferring to focus on mostly US-based and team-oriented sports and the perhaps more controversial comings out of players in traditionally more ‘macho’ team sports such as American Football, Baseball, and Basketball.
Overall Verdict: While Out To Win may seem to be only of interest to those passionate about sports or LGBT history, it opens a window onto a side of the sporting world that would normally not be available for public scrutiny. Truly inspiring and worth a watch to anyone wants to learn how a few brave people can change the world for the better.
Reviewer: Scott Elliott