Eammon Atkinson wanted to crash his car. The TV journalist was bullied relentlessly throughout his childhood, and the fog never really lifted. Thankfully, he mustered the self-control to pull over and call a friend, who told him to go see a doctor.
Atkinson was prescribed antidepressants, which helped curtail the dark thoughts. But his life didn’t truly change until three years later, when he joined the world’s first gay rugby club, the Kings Cross Steelers.
And now, Atkinson has decided to chronicle his life-altering experience in a new film: “Steelers.”
Atkinson wrote an essay recently in the Guardian about his journey to rugby and motivations for making the movie. The film has played in festivals across eight countries, including the U.S., where it was screened last month at the Boston Globe’s virtual film festival.
Meet the Steelers, the first Gay Rugby Club.— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) July 24, 2020
Documentary premiering in Auckland tonight at the New Zealand International Film Festival. pic.twitter.com/SAc5HyasGP
The documentary tells the story of the Steelers, who were founded in 1995 as the world’s first gay-inclusive rugby union club. Since then, the London-based team has gotten a lot of company. There are now at least 80 gay-inclusive rugby clubs around the world.
In his emotional essay, Atkinson recounts his “horrendous” experiences playing sports growing up, and his fear of changing alongside his classmates. In high school, he was outed by a friend, who filmed their sexual encounter and passed the video around school.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Atkinson moved from Australia to the United Kingdom in an effort to “shake that black dog off once and for all.” His roommate played on the Steelers and recommended he join. In Atkinson’s first game, he scored the most tries.
It gave him the most confidence he’s ever felt on the field, or perhaps anywhere. Better yet, he also wound up meeting his husband.
“Finally, I had found a place where I belonged,” Atkinson writes.
At the time, Atkinson was working as the Europe correspondent for 10 News in Australia (he’s currently the network’s U.S. correspondent). It wasn’t long before he decided to get out his camera and start filming. The movie premiered at the New Zealand Film Festival in July.
The trailer is poignant, and encapsulates the power of gay-inclusive sports teams. As one Steelers player puts it: “I will be tough and brutal and kick your ass on the pitch. When I’m off the pitch, I will be as flagrant and flamboyant as I want.”
Gay-inclusive teams allow LGBTQ athletes to unapologetically be themselves on the field. We don’t have to conform, and as a recreational gay athlete myself, I can say first-hand how damn good it feels.
That message is the crux of Atkinson’s film.
“I’d heard people talk about the power of sport before, but never believed it until now,” he writes. “Here, queer people were reclaiming their place on the pitch – an arena they grew up being told they didn’t belong in.”