USA Network premiered the first part of a two episode storyline on Necessary Roughness (Wednesdays at 10 p.m.) last night that addresses the question: what would happen if a football player was the first major league sports star to come out of the closet?
Necessary Roughness, one of USA’s biggest hits, is about Dr. Dani Santino, a recently divorced therapist who takes a job as the team therapist for the New York Hawks. A television series about the lives of football players decided to make the unprecedented move of featuring a storyline about the first major league sports star to come out and how that affects his team on and off the field, in part because of the network's committment to ending homophobia and intolerance.
The storyline is part of USA’s Characters Unite project, which features stars of USA shows (like Matt Bomer of White Collar) in public service announcments standing up against hate, bigotry, racism, and other forms of intolerance. Characters Unite is a national campaign lasting the entire month of February that is featured across the network, its TV series, its websites, and apps. There is also a nationwide bus tour that coincides with the campaign and allows viewers and fans to participate, hear stories, and meet Psych’s Dule Hill as he speaks out against bigotry.
In last night’s episode of Necessary Roughness, Rex, the team quarterback, after lashing out at his teammates and fumbling during the games, reveals to Dr. Dani that his boyfriend has decided to leave him if he doesn’t come out so they can lead an open life together. When the press learns that a football player is about to come out, a witch hunt ensues.
The media circus that develops around the quarterback’s coming out, while realistic, is probably only a percentage of the blitz that would happen in real life, and rightfully so. Major league sports is the final frontier in terms of public figures coming out. In major league football there is no current player who is out and living life as an openly gay man. While other players have hinted or even blatantly said they've had gay teammates, no one has stepped forward to be the first out sports star.
It is more common for actors or even politicians to be out these days, but an out gay male athlete is the “Holy Grail” according to publicist Howard Bragman, who helps celebrities come out of the closet and worked with USA on this special storyline. Next week’s season finale wraps up the coming-out storyline, and while this is a fictional show on USA, perhaps a major league athlete will take note and decide to be at the forefront of this final frontier.
The season finale of Necessary Roughness airs February 20 at 10 p.m. on USA.