‘The Rugby Player’ explores who our heroes really are

Is 2013 the year of the LGBT athlete? In April, NBA star Jason Collins came out. Followed by Brittney Griner, who came out as lesbian days after being the No. 1 draft selection for the WNBA. More recently, WWE wrestler Darren Young came out. But for every LGBT success story, another story exposing the difficulties still faced by LGBT athletes waits in the wings—just take Russia and the conflict surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics for example.

Set against the collective courage of Collins, Griner, Young and countless others, director/producer Scott Gracheff offers a lesser known story of heroism and courage with The Rugby Player, which screens September 8 at OutFlix Film Festival in Memphis. 

The Rugby Player tells the many stories of Mark Bingham. Bingham was an openly gay rugby player. Bingham was also an amateur documentarian, who according to Gracheff filmed his life from the age 16. Bingham was also a passenger on United Flight 93 and is considered a 9/11 hero.

With the many layers of Bingham’s life, the story of his relationship with his mother, Alice, is The Rugby Player’s centerpiece. “In many ways it took ten years to get here,” said Gracheff. “The benefit from that was that it really allowed the story to mature. If we had been able to complete the documentary a few years after 9/11 it wouldn’t have been the powerful and nuanced story that we now have. I think the fact the story was able to mature, the fact that we were really able to document Alice and her journey of rebuilding her life since 9/11 is really key to making this film as engaging as it is.”

According to Gracheff, in the film Alice admits to her shame the period of time it took her to get to a point of love and acceptance when Bingham first came out. Alice herself is a beacon of strength as she has since devoted her time and energy to pro-LGBT causes. “I think Alice and Mark's story in particular certainly proves that when someone makes the decision to come out and live openly and honestly in our society and they are met with love and acceptance as opposed to intolerance and violence, they can grow up to be amazing individuals and in Mark’s case grow up to be heroes,” Gracheff said.

And Bingham is considered a hero of United Flight 93. Believed to have been diverted from destroying the nation’s capital, Bingham is considered among those who disarmed the terrorists on that fateful morning. “In some way a portion of the story is from 12 years ago,” Gracheff explained. “The bigger story is a lot more evergreen than that.”

The bigger story in the film tackles issues such as marriage equality and homophobia in organized sports at all levels. “Mark Bingham’s story proves that prejudice, intolerance and homophobia has no place in the world and certainly not a place in organized sports,” Gracheff said. In order to get that message out there, producer Holly Million is developing a “robust educational outreach initiative” with the film in hopes of getting the film shown in schools. “We hope to soon get to the day that LGBTQ youth feel completely accepted and supported to choose any path they see fit unimpeded by outdated, unfair stereotypes,” Gracheff finished.

With less than a dozen screenings under their belt, Gracheff is thrilled about the reception The Rugby Player has received. After its Memphis screening on September 8, the film will see its New York premiere on 9/11 this year at New Fest NYC. The film will be screened with the filmmaking crew and Bingham’s mother at the Lincoln Centre. “We have had a few screenings where people in the audience were affected directly by 9/11 and we’re so honored that people have felt our film to be healing. The fact that we will be screening the film on the twelfth anniversary of 9/11 is really meaningful for all involved.”

Catch The Rugby Player, sponsored by PFLAG Memphis at MGLCC’s OutFlix in Memphis September 8 at 7:30 p.m.. Click here for tickets. 

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