Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The importance of Jason Collins

I'm only writing this because I've heard quite a lot of people -- Tony Kornheiser was the latest -- talk about how they can't understand why Jason Collins is receiving such attention.  (Collins was signed to a 10-day contract by Brooklyn and entered a game over the weekend, becoming the first openly gay athlete in any of the U.S.'s four major sports leagues.)

More to the point:

1)  Collins isn't Jackie Robinson.  Robinson's breaking of the color barrier was momentous and courageous.  This doesn't remotely come close.
2)  Collins isn't a good player.  He's an old forward who might play 5-10 minutes and commit a couple fouls.
3)  Heck, Collins played in the NBA before he came out.  What's so big about him playing now?

To which I counter:

Do you believe that Jason Collins is the first gay athlete to ever play in the NBA?
Do you also believe that he is the only current gay player in the NBA?
Do you believe that (besides the about-to-be drafted Michael Sam) there are no gay players in the NFL?
Do you believe that there are no gay players in baseball's Minor Leagues or Major Leagues?
Do you believe that there are no gay players in hockey's minor leagues or in the NHL?

If you believe that there are zero gay players in professional male sports other than Sam and Collins, then I shall respectfully disagree.  (Don't scoff -- I heard a former professional MLBer say that he is certain he never played with a gay teammate.)

But if you do believe, as I do, that there are closeted players in all of these leagues, worried about how they will be perceived if they come out, then perhaps you will see Collins as I do:  signifying that a professional athlete, in this day and age need not closet his true self for fear of what others might think.  This is the rallying cry of gay pride:  it is about pride.

For centuries, we have lived in a culture that has demanded secrecy and false behavior from any person who does not have heterosexual interests.  Bigots be damned, the momentum of humanity has now deemed this culture of secrecy/closetedness unacceptable.  There is nothing embarrassing or shaming about being gay (or bi).  Jason Collins was met with applause when he took the floor for the Nets.  Michael Sam has been embraced by the University of Missouri population.

This is bigger than Jason Collins.  This is for all of those athletes who need emboldening, and for our society as a whole.

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