By Connie Wardman
If you Google Seth Greenleaf or look at his Linkedin profile you discover that he’s a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer. So what is it that makes him a community hero? Well, he’s also a football fanatic, a straight athlete who used to quarterback the New York Warriors of the National Gay Flag Football League (NGFFL).
Experiences with his gay teammates became the catalyst for him to produce a documentary film, “F(l)ag Football The Movie: A documentary about coming out … and scoring.” It follows the journey of three NGFFL teams – the New York Warriors, the LA Motion and the Phoenix Hellraisers – in their quest to win the 2010 Gay Bowl in Phoenix. It is a universal message of the power of sports to bring people together.
The artistic world is generally more open and accepting of the gay community and Greenleaf is certainly no exception. But he admits that prior to joining the team, his perception of LGBT athletes was that they were “wimpy, girly and not athletic.” It didn’t take more than a tackle or two, however, to change his mind. He quickly learned that the gay players were every bit as tough, talented and competitive as any straight player … maybe even more so. In a prior interview with Compete Magazine, Greenleaf said he discovered “a lot of them can kick my ass! That they’re men, just like me. Athletes, masculine and not at all weak.”
What really led Greenleaf to making the movie was the unique bonding experience that he says happens when playing a team sport. In the process of learning to trust one another on the field, he says you also share what he refers to as “intense emotional moments that you will treasure all your life.” As his teammates learned to trust him, they began to open up and become vulnerable enough to share their personal stories with him.
Greenleaf was deeply moved by their stories, many of them painful coming out experiences of losing family members and friends. They also shared with him how being able to play the sport they loved with other gay athletes turned out to be a true game-changer in their personal lives as well. The team became a second family, one that offered support against the homophobia they faced on a regular basis.
This was a side of gay culture, what he called “the plight of the gay athlete,” that Greenleaf said he was determined to share with others. And that’s exactly what the film has done, sometimes with humor as in the flag in the title, “F(l)ag,” sometimes with the pathos of lost family acceptance and sometimes with the super-charged intensity of a team determined to win the gay equivalent of the Super Bowl.
As the film toured a number of film festivals last year, winning prizes along the way, the feedback shows that Greenleaf has accomplished what he set out to do – to help eliminate homophobia in sports by showing that gay athletes are just the same as straight athletes. He says the two most common reactions are “one, from the gay community who say they never knew how exciting sports could be or that they could represent the gay community; and two, from the straight community who continue to be blown away by the athleticism and intensity of the players in the film. It’s been a real eye-opener for them.”
The story is just as powerful now as it was when it was filmed, maybe more so. With some elite out athletes like Jason Collins, Robbie Rogers and Brittney Griner now in the public eye, it’s even more important for people to understand that the pro players aren’t an anomaly, that there are recreational gay athletes who are every bit as athletic and competitive. Now in the distribution process, the movie should be available for general viewing in the coming year.