TAMPA | Orlando resident Toni Gott, a breast cancer survivor who has undergone a double mastectomy, prematurely left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Cleveland Browns game honoring cancer survivors at Raymond James stadium Oct. 21 following a confrontation with a Tampa Sports Authority employee concerning her use of a female restroom.
The game followed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation’s sixth annual Treasure Chests 5K and Fun Run, benefitting breast cancer research and patient services across Tampa Bay. Throughout the game, the Buccaneers honored cancer survivors and featured other league-wide programming.
“Every time a play stopped, if it was a TV timeout, they would bring a different survivor out and put them on the big screen to share their story; the whole place was surrounded with survivors,” Gott recalls. “I didn’t originally buy tickets to the game for that, it just all lined up – I’m a survivor myself, it was great that I was going to get to go to a ‘pink game.’ I had never been to an NFL game with other survivors like this.”
Gott says her excitement quickly diminished when she went to the restroom ahead of halftime, around 2:15 p.m. “We had tickets up in the club seats,” she says, noting she attended the gathering with her wife and was surrounded by “a whole section of ladies in bright pink.”
“I left my seat and went up into the private area to use the restroom,” she recalls. “I wasn’t the only one who had that idea because it was packed … As blatant as it is, I sat down to use the restroom and before I could stand up, someone was pounding on the door of the stall I was in.”
Gott says she wasn’t sure if it was due to the large crowd and thought perhaps another patron needed to use the restroom themselves. “I open the door and there is someone who works for the stadium, standing there and blocking the stall so I can’t get out – and at the top of her lungs she says, ‘are you a man?’”
“I told her, ‘no, ma’am,’” Gott continues. “She says, “you sure? No, you’re not a man, are you a man?’ and I said ‘no ma’am, I’m not a man; I’m a breast cancer survivor. Ma’am, I’m trying to tell you.’”
According to Gott, five women surrounded her to offer her emotional support and guide her from the restroom, which the employee had also departed. “I can’t even remember if I washed my hands, that’s how terrible it was,” she says. “Apparently someone reported a man in the restroom and instead of this woman going in there and seeing what was going on, she singled me out.”
Following the exchange, Gott was encouraged to report the matter. She says she approached the employee, asked for a supervisor and was met with laughter. “She starts telling everyone at the desk, she’s laughing, she calls the supervisor on the phone and then they’re laughing,” she says. “Eventually a supervisor came and he couldn’t understand why I was so upset. He said she was just doing her job, that’s what she was supposed to do.”
“At that point we asked for his supervisor who kind of said the same thing and all I wanted to do was leave,” she continues. “I was mortified; at least 50 people are watching this happen. I just looked at the last gentlemen who we spoke to and said, ‘Sir, I understand that might be her job if something’s being reported in the restroom. But myself as a customer, I should never know why that person was in there; none of us should unless there was a real disturbance or a problem. If that’s your protocol to go check something out, that’s fine … why should someone stand in front of my stall, block me in it and have their feet under the door pounding on it?”
Gott subsequently left the stadium. “I couldn’t be there anymore,” she says. “I had tickets to come back in November and I’m not coming. I’ll never step foot in this stadium again – I’m mortified by what happened to me.”
Watermark reached out to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for comment and was referred to the Tampa Sports Authority, which manages Raymond James Stadium.
“The Tampa Sports Authority strives to provide an enjoyable experience for all our guests who visit Raymond James stadium,” Vice President of Marketing & Communications Bobby Silvest advised in a statement. “During Sunday’s game, one of our guest services attendants was approached by a female guest stating that a man had entered a ladies restroom in the East Club. As with any observation brought to our attention, it is our responsibility to respond and assess the situation.
“Our attendant did so, finding out the claim was incorrect, subsequently upsetting the guest who was mistakenly identified,” the statement continues. “Two supervisors spoke with the individual in question and apologized for this upsetting her. Our Director of Events even provided his card to the individual and asked her to call him to discuss what steps we were taking to address her situation. We will continue to provide staff training to address the needs of our guests in the future.”
Following the exchange, Gott reached out to Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation for help. She says the Orlando organization and its founder Robin Maynard-Harris helped her following her diagnosis in April 2015.
“Unfortunately this happens way too often and needs to stop,” Maynard-Harris tells Watermark. “It’s a bathroom not a battleground and these survivor stories are heartbreaking. Cancer treatments are hard enough, choosing to not have reconstruction is a personal choice and a lifetime of restroom discrimination should not be a factor in that choice.”
“This survivor is owed an apology at a minimum along with a promise of sensitivity training,” she continues. “Breasts don’t define gender.”
“I’m a very strong individual, and I took on this breast cancer,” Gott says, “and pardon my language, I kicked its ass … but I’m not out of the woods. I still have time left.”
Gott stresses that while she’s a private person, she spoke up to raise awareness. “For the women that this has happened to, and I know that it has happened to others, we’re all in this together. Nobody fights alone. I’m a very private person. I’m very quiet, but if people don’t speak up – if we don’t band together as women and men – we’re never going to solve this problem and the stigma that you should look a certain way as a human being.”
“I didn’t think I’d wake up one day and have to lose my breasts,” Gott says, “but honestly they tried to kill me. They were full of cancer; they had to go. I want the NFL and other places to realize they need to have sensitivity training for their staff; no one should have to deal with this.”
Photo courtesy of Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation.