On Tuesday, HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel returns, and two of the segments feature people breaking through barriers in sports: the UFC's Ronda Rousey and former Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas.
Rousey will main event Saturday's UFC pay-per-view as part of the first women's fight in UFC history. Rousey, who was named the UFC women's bantamweight champion in November, will defend her title against Liz Carmouche, the first openly gay fighter in the UFC. Saturday's main event is historic on multiple fronts, and the feature exploring Rousey's story is powerful. Starting with her nearly dying as a baby and not speaking until she became six years old, and then retreating back into her shell when her father committed suicide at age eight. After her father's death, Rousey took up judo, which started her path towards MMA stardom.
The feature on Rousey also has a brief focus on her Olympic career, which peaked with a bronze medal in judo during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Like many Olympians in non-revenue sports, Rousey had no money after her Olympic journey, living out of her car despite being the first American woman to ever medal in judo. That eventually led to Rousey's entrance into MMA, and her breaking the door down into the UFC.
But Rousey isn't the only focus of Real Sports this month. There is also a feature on Gareth Thomas, a former member of the Welsh national rugby team. Thomas is an all-time rugby great… and he was also the first active openly gay man in any major team sport worldwide. The feature on Thomas is extraordinary, featuring him admitting to going to church weekly and praying to become straight. Thomas turned the anger he had built up inside him about not being able to come out into aggression on the field.
Thomas came out in December 2009 after contemplating suicide. The reaction from his teammates was overwhelmingly positive, and Thomas' story might give other gay athletes something to build upon when it's time for them to come out. After Robbie Rogers came out on Friday, maybe other athletes can look towards him and Thomas as inspiration in the future.
Both of the main features on Real Sports this month are worth your time. The third feature is about Pakistani squash player Maria Toor Pakay, which I previewed last month but got bumped from the airing of the show. All three features focus on barriers being broken down, and the future of sports worldwide.