Coming Out

Apple TV+’s ‘Swagger’ Tackles Coming Out as a Gay Teen Athlete

*photo credit: Apple TV+

Swagger takes on the intricate world of youth basketball and now it just tackled how LGBTQ+ youth can be embraced within it.

Swagger is one of Apple TV+’s latest and greatest creations. Loosely based on the experiences of basketball phenom Kevin Durant and created by filmmaker Reggie Rock Bythewood, Swagger details the glitz, glam, talent, ambition, and corruption within youth basketball. Think Friday Night Lights with tinges of Love & Basketball (created by Bythewood’s wife, Gina Prince-Bythewood). 

The series, featuring the talents O’Shea Jackson Jr., Isaiah Hill, Tristan Wilds, Quvenzhané Wallis, Tessa Ferrer, and Shannon Brown, is back this summer for a season two and a new set of trials for these top tier youth basketball players. The pressure is on for these talented teens as they reach the cusp of adulthood as seniors at the prestigious Cedar Cove Prep. Navigating high school is a feat on its own, and evolving your school’s basketball team into an elite force is a debacle all on its own, but one teammate has an entirely different challenge that many youth face today. 

In the latest episode of season 2, Cedar Cove Prep teammate CJ Ryder (Brown), has a secret that he no longer wants to hide from his teammates, who he sees as family. Before the next game, the basketball team, their coaches, Ike (Jackson) and Meg (Ferrer), and CJ’s father, Camden (Christopher B. Duncan), rally around CJ, patiently waiting for what he has to say to them. 

Well, CJ decides to let his community in on who he is, and comes out to his team and coaches, with the support of his father. And, much to CJ’s surprise, his team and coaches embrace him and his gay identity with open arms.

With so few openly queer professional and college athletes, but many LGBTQ+ youth interested in pursuing athletics, the representation for LGBTQ+ youth in sports is far and few in between. Not to mention, homophobia and transphobia impact the experiences of many LGBTQ+ youth athletes. It also doesn’t help that different athletic governing boards and local legislation are making it increasingly difficult for queer and trans youth to participate in the sports they love. 

While there are more outspoken women athletes discussing their sexuality, many men still keep their sexuality under wraps due to homophobia on and off the court. That directly inspired Swagger creator Bythewood to take a different approach. 

“Female athletes who are gay have been much more forthcoming and outspoken about their sexuality than their male counterparts. It would be amazing if male athletes who are gay had the ability to be their authentic selves,” Bythewood said for INTO. “We had the pleasure of having Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the NBA, as one of our consultants this season. After working with Jason, we decided this scene should be a learning lesson for gay athletes and for teammates who are not gay.”

Some people have traumatic “coming out” experiences and more often than not, the media tends to highlight negative experiences that LGBTQ+ youth face. However, queer joy deserves its place on-screen and Bythewood’s decision to show CJ’s “coming out” experience as one that’s uplifting can make a difference for queer fans of the show. 

“Everyone has the right to be who they are. To get that message across, we took the weight off of CJ’s announcement and let it play like no big deal,” Bythewood said. “Sort of like, ‘Okay, you’re gay. Now how’s your jump shot?’ It is important for young queer athletes to be themselves, but young athletes who are not queer need to be accepting as well.”

Ultimately, Bythewood wants parents and coaches to understand that embracing and supporting queer youth is what’s truly beneficial to their development. 

“I hope parents and coaches learn that the most important thing for their queer players is their well-being. That is paramount,” Bythewood said. “There is an overriding question in Swagger. It asks us, ‘How do we treat our kids?’ Whether our characters are Black, White, gay, straight, male, female, etc., that question extends to all of our children. And young queer students and athletes are our children.”

Swagger’s season two finale premieres on August 11. 

Read More in Entertainment
The Latest on INTO