The event was a clinic to teach football skills to some of the players in the NYGFL, with 22 total teams one of the largest LGBT football leagues in the country. It was just the latest chapter in a multi-year relationship between the Giants and the local LGBT flag football league.
“It was awesome,” said Giants offensive quality control coach Angela Baker, who was one of the coaches leading the clinic. “The energy, the excitement, the eagerness to learn, the group was incredible. Nothing but smiles.”
Baker herself is a trailblazer, one of the growing number of women in the NFL coaching ranks. She said she was thrilled to be part of the event, in part because she has various LGBT people in her life, and she has even participated in a Gay Bowl with the National Gay Flag Football League. Seeing communities come together around the sport she loves is rewarding.
“One great thing about football is all communities love football,” Baker said. “Gay, straight, rich, poor. Football is such a great community sport. Everyone deserves to be a part of the game.”
Baker is no stranger to building diversity in the sport, one of the first two women to hold a coaching position with the Giants. She spent 2021 coaching at the University of Redlands, winning a conference title with a 6-0 team SCIAC record and finishing the season in the D3Football.com top 25.
This year she’s coaching on a Giants team that has started the season with a “surprise” (for some) 2-0 record.
Trenton Thompson, a rookie safety with the Giants, was one of the NFL players who participated in the clinic.
“I have gay family members,” Thompson told Outsports. When Giants community relations director Ethan Medley brought the opportunity to Thompson, “it made me think about them. If I’m asked again to host something like that, I’d do it again.”
The LGBT players in the New York gay league said they were blown away by the event.
“What an incredible time,” said Omar, who plays in the NYGFL. “The entire staff created an unmatched experience. It felt like a ‘day in the life of an NFL Player,’ and it was a dream come true.”
The timing of the Giants event last Friday played a role in its importance. This was late on a Friday evening, less than 48 hours before the Giants’ home game against the Carolina Panthers (the Giants won, 19-16).
“That’s where the commitment came into play,” said NYGFL commissioner Monty Clinton. “This is their personal time. They had a game on Sunday. For the staff and players and coaches to come out and spend their time on a late Friday evening, away from their families, and spend their time with members of our league showed their genuine commitment to being partners and driving the cause of inclusivity in sports.
“It didn’t feel like a burden to them. It felt genuine.”
The Giants are one of a number of NFL teams that have worked at various levels with their local LGBT flag football league. Amongst them, the New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos all have a relationships at some level with their corresponding LGBT flag football league. Patriots owner Robert Kraft has even attended multiple events held by the league in Boston.
The relationship between the NYGFL and the Giants dates back to 2007, when the Giants participated in the Gay Bowl in New York. The next year the club hosted members of the league at its training camp, thanks to longtime executive Pat Hanlon. At the time there was a loose catch-as-catch-can relationship between the Giants and the NYGFL.
The relationship became an official partnership, and went to a whole different level, when Giants employee and content producer Natalie Wizel approached the team about support in 2017. She had recently found the NYGFL and instantly fell in love (and not just because she won a league championship her first year playing).
Bridging her work situation in the NFL with her passion for the flag football league, and her LGBT community, was a dream come true.
She’s been thrilled to see the Giants fully embrace that growing relationship, even to see Giants owner John Mara express support for the LGBT community, through his support for his son, John Jr., who married his husband last year.
“If the owner of the Giants, the Mara family, a well-respected family, for them to have the LGBT community as part of it, it’s important,” Wizel said. “As the NFL moves toward having more gay players coming out in the league, it’s important as more leaders in the NFL community continue to show support of the LGBT community.”
The Giants’ support of the LGBT community has extended to support of equal rights in the past, as Giants co-owner Steve Tisch was out front over a decade ago supporting marriage equality.
That expression of open arms extends throughout the team, Baker said, describing an atmosphere in the locker room and coaches offices as welcoming, from players to coaches to front office.
The language around the team matches that — she said she’s never heard a gay slur or homophobic language come out of anyone’s mouth.
“Not even anything close to it,” Baker said. “Nothing of the sort. We have a lot of respectful players in general. People bust each other’s chops about many things, but I’ve never heard anything close to anything like that.”
Thompson said he’s had the same experience amongst players and coaches.
“I haven’t seen or heard anything in the locker room that would make anyone on the Giants seem homophobic,” Thompson said. He pointed out that there were various players who chose to be at the event for the gay football league. “There were more players out there, big offensive linemen. It was a good time for everybody.”
The event last Friday night reportedly ended with an inclusive message that reflects the power of football and the diversity the sport mandates for success.
“Angela ended a huddle with, ‘football is family,’” Wizel remembered. “And even a queer football group, you’re going to be treated with respect. For me as an employee, you want to feel comfortable in the halls. As a queer employee of the Giants I feel that.”