ON THIN ICE Film Review — Fighting for Equality in Sports

“This is a story about what it means to play the game when the field isn’t level. To find the will to succeed when the prospects of success remain so persistently grim.”

The Saturday night lights shined bright on Michael Sam, his football helmet raised into the air in celebration, the rest of his team trailing behind their superstar. His black helmet donned the yellow University of Missouri tiger, the place in which Sam became a household name in the sports world, racking up the collegiate accolades. Following his senior season, Sam came out as gay to the public, and his sports career took a turn.

On Thin Ice details the inspirational stories of professional and Olympic athletes fighting for equality in an oftentimes racist, homophobic, and/or sexist environment. Not all of them have a happy ending. As for Sam, his coming out provoked his downfall. Despite his stellar accomplishments, his draft stock plummeted and he was picked in the final round of the NFL draft. Not long after, he was released by the team that drafted him. His sexuality seemingly became a blemish on his resume, and he would fade from American football the same year he came out as gay.

ON THIN ICE Demonstrates An Uphill Battle

The documentary is a collection of anecdotes, briskly jumping from one issue to another. Director Keli Price brings together athletes we’ve grown to know and love, with the likes of Apolo Ohno, Allyson Felix, and Evander Holyfield offering their experiences at the national and Olympic stage.

The film is divided into four parts: History, Game Changers, “B-Ball, Not Politics”, and Progress. In the film’s opening, we are introduced to Jack Brooks, a world class speed skater in the 1920s and 30s. A Jewish immigrant, Brooks was barred from competing in the Olympics because he wasn’t an American citizen. Old-time, black and white video clips display Brooks as a consistent top finisher, his long strides and swinging arms comfortably outpacing the competition.

Brooks’ story sets a precedent for the film, exemplifying an athlete who did everything he could to establish himself as the gold standard in his sport, yet existing prejudices proved it still wasn’t enough. 

While we are nearly a century removed from Brooks’ devastating tale, discrimination remains prevalent. Soccer star and Olympian Robbie Rogers detailed some of the locker room talk before his teammates were aware of his sexuality. Phrases like “How could someone be gay?” and “How disgusting is that?” were commonplace among his peers, making for the obstacle of coming out an even greater challenge.

ON THIN ICE Offers Hope For A Brighter Future

“That’s the unfinished work of this generation. To build a more just and more equal world one sport and one athlete at a time.”

On Thin Ice recognizes the efforts put forward by individuals, organizations, and countries who have taken steps towards equality in sports. The film highlights the One Team initiative launched by the Canadian Olympic Committee with a focus on fighting discrimination in athletics.

In this writer’s opinion, the film pushes an imperative and influential message that there is still work to be done in achieving equality in the sports realm. With that said, the film jumps rather sporadically from one issue to another. The frequent shifts from topic to topic make it difficult at times to digest the information presented. 

Anybody who keeps up with the Olympics should give On Thin Ice a watch, as the Olympic Games are currently a popular topic. A casual sports fan may also be invested in this film, as well as those with an interest in combating inequality. 


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Director: Keli Price
Producers: Keli Price, Jamie Price, Jordan Meltzer, Nikko Price, and Melissa Goldsmith
Editor: Nikko Price
Cinematography: Kristen Diliello, Hippo Wong, Basil Mironer, Christopher Broe, Anthony Petrucci, Jan-Michael Del Mundo, and Ryan Bell

Images courtesy of ON THIN ICE

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