Comcast SportsNet Bay Area has put together a fantastic, in-depth look at the state of homophobia and gay athletes in professional sports. The one-hour documentary, titled The Last Barrier and airing Sat, Dec. 8, at 3pm PT (on NBC Bay Area), features lengthy interviews with various key figures in the pro sports world including openly gay Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, and You Can Play co-founder Patrick Burke. Dave Kopay and I are also part of a five-minute sit-down, which we taped while in San Francisco last month.
The highlight of the piece is a fantastic interview with former New York Giants wide receiver and Bay Area native Amani Toomer (video below). The Super Bowl champ, who last played in the NFL in 2008, seemed like a spokesperson for the You Can Play project when asked what would have happened if a teammate came out on the Giants while he was playing:
I think initially it would have been a shock, but if the guy can play and he was helping our team, helping our team win, I think the shock would wear off and I think he'd be accepted just like any other player in the locker room. There are people from all different walks, all different socioeconomic groups, all different parts of the country, and one thing that brings everybody together is usually football. ... During that time, when you're in that locker room together, there's not really much you care about but what that person does on the field on Sundays.
One of the many things that's awesome about that answer is the picture it paints of athletes who are used to being around people who aren't like them. Religion, accent, physical size, economic background, education -- Diversity of all these human aspects make up a football locker room, maybe more so than any other sport. And as guys like Trent Richardson have told us, these things make your average football player more than just a dumb jock on gay issues.
Toomer also talks about the impact coming out could have on a star athlete. While the fear some have expressed is a loss in playing time or being marginalized by the team or in the locker room, Toomer says no way:
If a superstar player is helping your team win and helping your organization, if you're the face of the organization and you come out as gay, I don't think that will change your position at all. You will be the exact same person in the eyes of the players, you'll be the exact same person in the eyes of the fans, because ultimately at the end of the day, all people want to see is their team win. The fans really don't care about the sexual orientation of players, and I don't think people in the locker room care about people's sexual orientation. It's all about winning.
If it's a superstar, it means every other player on the team now has to make a decision. What's more important to me? Winning and the possibility of making more money, which is a by-product of winning, or my prejudices? And most athletes would come out and say, 'You know what? I might not be crazy about this, but he's important to us, he helps us win, which means he helps me enjoy the kind of lifestyle that I want to enjoy as an athlete, so I'm going to deal with this internally, and I'm going to be fine with it.'
The thorough documentary is hosted by Comcast SportsNet anchor Dave Feldman. It airs Sat., Dec. 8, at 3pm PT on NBC Bay Area. It re-airs on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. If you live outside the Bay Area, folks who subscribe to DirecTV and Dish Network’s sports packages can watch the program on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
You can check out two clips below, or visit The Last Barrier page at CSNBayArea for more.