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Review: ‘The Last Barrier’ A Sober Look At A Tough Topic



Gay Athletes Coming Out In Major Leagues Is Focus Of New Documentary

In America’s four big-league sports–baseball, football, basketball, and hockey–the one remaining “untouchable” subject is that of gay athletes playing on their teams.  There’s been much speculation about whether, and when, an active major-league player might publicly reveal himself to be gay, and what effect this would have on his team and sport in general.

By Nathan James

To address this hot-button topic, Ted Griggs, Vice-President of Comcast SportsNet for NBC Bay Area, has produced a documentary film, The Last Barrier.  Aired this past weekend as a one-hour TV special, Griggs engages his audience in a thoughtful, sober discussion of the issues surrounding gays in pro sports.  He brings several noted sports figures and analysts into the conversation, among them retired, out NFL Player Dave Kopay, Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings, and Shooty Babbitt, formerly of the Oakland A’s.

“Everybody wants to be the second gay player to come out,” says host Ray Ratto of SportsNet, “because then it will be that much easier”.  Ratto, joined by Dave Feldman and Babbitt, debate the pros and cons inherent with a gay player outing himself while still active.

Babbitt points out that “religious” players and team staff might “have a problem” with an openly gay player (when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo publicly supported gay marriage, Maryland delegate Emmett Burns fired off a scathing letter to the NFL citing religious grounds and imploring the league to silence Ayanbadejo, something Griggs depicts in his film), but all three hosts agreed it was “inevitable”.

Griggs takes care not to slant his film towards either side of the debate, but the points raised are provocative.  What might happen to corporate endorsements if a “big-name” player came out?  In fact, if a “benchwarmer” announces he is gay, would that be the same as a star quarterback or power forward?  What might the fans’ reaction be?

Some of the answers are predictable, others surprising.  Kluwe says “If someone were to come out, it would be hard for them.  But I think they’d have a lot more support than they’d realize.  A lot of the younger generation in the NFL realize it’s not about your sexuality, or who you want to marry.  It’s about how you can help the team win on Sunday.”  NHL scout and  You Can Play co-founder Pat Burke believes “We’ll have an openly gay [big-league] player in two years”, sooner than many sports experts generally expect.

“We’re not trying to be advocates,” Griggs observes of his film, “But we do want to get people talking.  We want people to discuss this with family and friends.  As a candid examination of one of big-time sports’ final taboos, The Last Barrier gets high marks for handling the subject in a balanced, engaging way.  You can find out more about the film and Comcast SportsNet by visiting www.comcastsportsnet.com