'The Last Barrier' on CSN Bay Area

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'The Last Barrier' on CSN Bay Area

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.”

A's spring training Day 10: Canha doubles off Gray in intrasquad game

A's spring training Day 10: Canha doubles off Gray in intrasquad game

MESA, Ariz. — The A’s had four lineups sketched out for two intrasquad games taking place simultaneously Thursday.

You couldn’t help but notice that one of the lineups in particular was packed with Oakland’s regulars, and there were plenty of highlights delivered by notable names during the two-inning game at the A’s minor league facility.

Sonny Gray gave up a run on Mark Canha’s RBI double to right-center in his inning of work but also struck out Ryon Healy with a good breaking ball. Gray’s stuff earned solid reviews from manager Bob Melvin.

Overall, Melvin was pleasantly surprised with some of the hard contact generated by his hitters, who had seen just two days of live batting practice prior to Thursday.

“Canha hits a pitch down that’s moving all over the place to right-center,” Melvin said.

In the same game, Rajai Davis hit a leadoff triple to center off Kendall Graveman and came home on Stephen Vogt’s single. Graveman got Matt Joyce looking on a fastball but gave up some hard contact in a brief 15-pitch outing. He’ll start Sunday’s game against the Angels, so Thursday’s outing acted like a between-start bullpen session.

In the other game, Sean Manaea got his three outs so quickly that they had to extend the inning a bit for him to get his work in. That game was highlighted by a long home run from infield prospect Yairo Munoz off Daniel Coulombe.

Melvin said bench coach Mark Kotsay handled duties of sketching out the rosters for the two intrasquad games, and while it will be interesting to see how Melvin writes out the lineup for Saturday’s exhibition opener against the Chicago Cubs, keep in mind that the early Cactus League games will only feature a handful of regulars in each of them.

PROSPECT WATCH: Shortstop Franklin Barreto, the A’s top-rated prospect, will also see some time at second base this spring but not in the outfield, Melvin said. Barreto has played some center field in winter ball, but general manager David Forst, during an offseason interview with CSN California, said the team envisions Barreto as an infielder. The A’s have Marcus Semien entrenched at shortstop right now, and there’s been some feeling among scouts that Barreto — whose bat is his biggest strength — is better suited for second base long-term anyway. Another highly touted prospect, Richie Martin, is a possible shortstop of the future as well.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s have expressed optimism that reliever Santiago Casilla will arrive in camp shortly after being delayed by the visa process in the Dominican Republic. But Casilla remains day-to-day, with Melvin not giving a timetable for his arrival.

“We were going to slow-play him this spring anyway. He’ll throw some bullpens and probably throw to some hitters before we get him in a game,” Melvin said. “At this point in time I’m still not that concerned. I’ll start to be a little bit if we get into games (and he’s not in camp), but I still think we’re on a good schedule with him.”

ODDS AND ENDS: Oscar-nominated actor Mahershala Ali, an Oakland native who threw out the first pitch at an A’s game last season, arranged for a screening of his movie “Moonlight” on Thursday night for A’s players at a Scottsdale theatre. Ali is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie, which is also up for Best Picture.

“It’s nice of him to think of that and want to set that up,” reliever John Axford said. “I’ve already seen it and I’ll be there again.”

Axford, a movie fanatic and Film & Television major in college, has created a social media buzz in recent years by doing incredibly well predicting the Oscar winners. He has yet to reveal all of his picks for Sunday’s show, but he gives rave reviews to “Moonlight.”

Nuggets' Malone plays what if game with Kings, takes jab at ownership

Nuggets' Malone plays what if game with Kings, takes jab at ownership

SACRAMENTO -- It seems like yesterday that Michael Malone was leading a Sacramento Kings team featuring DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay into battle every night. Less than three years later, only Gay remains with the franchise and he’s out for the season with a torn left Achilles. 

Thomas left in a lopsided trade that yielded Sacramento Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception during the summer of 2014. Malone was let go with an 11-13 record 24 games into the 2014-15 campaign after Cousins went down with a bout of viral meningitis. Cousins is now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans following a blockbuster trade on Sunday.

“I always go back and think - ‘what could have happened if myself, DeMarcus, Isaiah, a healthy Rudy, if we were all together?,’” Malone told a small group of reporters before shootaround on Thursday. “We’ll never know, but I like to think that a lot of positive things would have happened, because I felt like we had something good going here. And it wasn’t to be.”

Malone’s reputation as a defense-minded coach played into his firing. At the time, owner Vivek Ranadivé used musical metaphors to describe what he was looking for in his next head coach.

“We had a Sousa marching band, which was needed when there was chaos, but now we need to shift to a jazz band, where people can be individually showcased and improvised,” Ranadivé said. “What we need is a jazz director.”

Malone is back in Sacramento Thursday night as the head coach of the Denver Nuggets and he’s looking for his first win against his former club in his fifth opportunity. He also heads a group that leads the Kings by a game and a half in the standings and boasts the NBA’s fourth highest scoring average at 110.6 points per game. 

“I can’t remember all the things that were said when I was fired, because there was so much being said,” Malone stated. “But I know one of the things that was being said was ‘style of play.’ There were people that were not in my corner that used that as a way to get me fired. Now we’re one of the highest scoring teams in NBA.”

“I look at you people, you were wrong,” a smiling Malone added while looking directly into a news camera. 

Known for his ability to connect to Cousins, Malone was as shocked as anyone to hear that the Kings traded the talented 26-year-old. The two have remained close, despite no longer working together.

“That was definitely a surprise over All-Star break,” Malone said. “Surprise for me, even a bigger surprise for him from what I understand.”

Malone has very little time to worry about his former player. He has to prepare his Nuggets team for a new-look Kings roster that has played a gritty, hard-nosed style all season long. With 26 games remaining, his team sits in the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff chase and they face a team that is backed into a cormer.

“They have a chip on their shoulder,” Malone said. “You make a big trade like that and I’m sure the players in that locker room are going to say, ‘Everybody’s writing us off because we don’t have DeMarcus.’ They’re going to come out and try and prove everybody wrong. They beat Boston, a very good team, without DeMarcus, and I’m sure that’s the model they’re going to try to use moving forward.”

A straight shooter through and through, Malone spoke on a variety of topics before heading out to the floor to prep his team for the 7:30 start at Golden 1 Center. 

“I just want to get a win, period,” Malone said. “The grudge is gone, this is part of the business. I knew the rules when I signed up, I really did.”

Malone understood the reality of taking over a fledgling franchise under new ownership and management when he took the Kings job. Sacramento gave him his first head coaching opportunity in the league, which he is grateful for, but his departure was anything but clean. The grudge might be gone, but those who covered Malone during his time with the Kings know full-well that playing this franchise will always be personal.