Programming note: The show premieres Saturday at 3 p.m. on NBC Bay Area and can be seen on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area Monday, Dec. 10 at 8:30 p.m.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, I saw the movie “Lincoln” in the theater. If you have not seen it yet, the backdrop of the movie is the abolishment of slavery and the passing of the 13th Amendment. You know how that ended.
But as I sat in my seat, something else was cemented in my mind. There’s another issue that holds our society back as a whole nearly 150 years later. Yes, we’re not a fully formed nation on many issues, but the state Gay Rights is in the United States is still very much incomplete. I’m not here to state my views or to lead anyone down a path. But the facts are what they are at this point.
Back in September, we began working on a show on what we know best – sports. The hook was simple - Why has there never been an active male gay athlete in the four major sports?
In our hour-long special, The Last Barrier, we look at all of the issues surrounding the topic. Some reasons are simple to understand, and some are just antiquated beliefs of decades ago. Statistically, somewhere near four percent of Americans are gay. Yet, zero male athletes have ever come out while playing. Dozens have come out after their playing days ended, but never while active. That’s hard to believe.
We enlisted the help of an impressive group of opinionated people on the subject. The topics range from how an out player would be received in the locker room/clubhouse to whether it matters if the player is a superstar or role player.
A male athlete coming out while playing will be no easy feat. Our panel is very honest about the realities such a player would face. It’s not much of a stretch to think some of the same problems Jackie Robinson faced in the 1940s would surface in today’s game. Sure, the media would not allow players to say bigoted things publicly. But what gets said in the confines of a stadium or arena rarely makes it to the general public. That is what we try to uncover: What are true feelings of male team sports in 2012 towards gay athletes?
[RELATED: 'The Last Barrier' examines challenges facing gay athletes during their playing careers]
The show premieres Saturday at 3:00 pm on NBC Bay Area and can be seen on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area Monday, December 10th at 8:30pm. The guest list includes Rick Welts, President and COO of the Golden State Warriors; Chris Kluwe, Minnesota Vikings punter; Patrick Burke, co-founder of “You Can Play” and Philadelphia Flyers scout; Dave Kopay, former NFL player; Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of OutSports.com; and Amani Toomer, Bay Area native, former NFL player and NBC Sports NFL analyst.
CSNBayArea.com Senior Insider Ray Ratto and former MLB player, Comcast SportsNet analyst and current MLB scout Shooty Babitt give their thoughts in studio.
Below are some excerpts from the show:
Rick Welts (Warriors President & COO):
On what’s keeping professional athletes from coming out: “I think we’re at a point of time in our society where I think it’s inevitable. That step will be taken. I think it’ll be ‘What took so long’ at that point. But it’ll be a tremendously courageous thing for a pro athlete, especially if they are at the peak of their career, to take that step”.
Chris Kluwe (Vikings punter):
On if an NFL locker room is ready for on openly gay player: “I think if someone were to come out as openly gay, it would be tough for them. But I think they would have a lot more support than they’d realize. Like I said, a lot of the younger generation coming up in the NFL realize it’s not about your sexuality; it’s not about who you want to marry. It’s about how can you help this team win on Sunday.”
Patrick Burke (Co-Founder of the ‘You Can Play’ and Flyers scout):
On when he expects to see an openly gay player in the NHL: “I think we’ll have an openly gay player in the next two years. I think the response ‘You Can Play’ has gotten from the players and the media proves to the closeted gay players that we know we have in the league, that our league is ready for it.”
Amani Toomer (NFL veteran and NBC Sports NFL analyst):
On whether the first NFL gay athlete to come out is a superstar versus a role player: “I think if it was a superstar player, people would be that much more accepting. If you’re a superstar player and you’re helping the team win, and you’re the face of the franchise, and you come out gay, I don’t think that would change your position at all. He’ll be the exact same person in terms of the players; you’ll be the exact same person in terms of the fans, because ultimately at the end of the day, all people want to see is their team win. I don’t think fans care about the sexual orientation of players, and I don’t think the players in the locker room care about sexual orientation. It’s all about winning.”
Cyd Ziegler, Jr., (Co-Founder of OutSports.com):
On the reaction of an active professional athlete coming out: “What’s amazing is how many people think it’s going to be hard for a professional athlete to come out of the closet. Every shred of evidence when we talk to the media and we talk to the fans, team executives, Fortune 500 companies, every single one of them says ‘I’m good with this.’ I think we’re going to look back a month after it happens and say ‘Wow, this is incredible, not what I expected.’”
On the myth straight athletes are homophobic: “I’ve talked to two dozen NFL players over the last year and every single one of them not only expressed support for gay athletes but they talked about their gay brothers, sisters, cousins. This idea that the locker room is this horrible, homophobic place is just not true anymore.”