It took long enough, but there finally is an active gay athlete in one of the four major sports in America.
Jason Collins just finished out his NBA season with the lowly Washington Wizards, but he hit the newswires on Monday morning in a way he never has in his 12-year professional career.
Collins wrote a column for Sports Illustrated coming out as a gay athlete that will appear in the May 6 issue of the magazine. However, the publication decided to run his story online before the print edition, this was only the fourth time the magazine has done so since 2008. His first words were, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
The piece was very well-written and an underlying theme seemed to be his attempt at shedding the gay stereotype. He discusses how he has always been an aggressive player and questions the gay stereotype of being “soft” because his game on the hardwood does not necessarily dictate that.
He also interwove recent news events to his plight and ultimate decision to come out as gay. He mentions the U.S. Supreme Court hearing arguments for and against gay marriage in March and the Boston Marathon bombing as reinforcing the notion that he shouldn’t wait for the perfect circumstance to come out.
Even the jersey number he chose to wear this season was what he described as “one small gesture of solidarity.” The number 98 is significant to the gay community because of one of the most notorious hate crimes; the murder of Matthew Shepard, which occurred in 1998.
All in all, it was pretty inspirational stuff for a movement that seems to be growing stronger, especially if you consider the outpouring of respect and support that Collins received through social networking and other forms of media.
Everyone from Collins’ teammates to action movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson expressed their respect for his announcement. Even former President Bill Clinton tweeted, “I’m proud to call Jason Collins a friend.” This coming from the person who signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which was a federal law defining marriage as the union of a man and woman exclusively. Clinton has since urged that the law be overturned by the Supreme Court and his support of his “friend” Collins is a prime example of how far gay rights have come.
Another example of progress in being more sensitive to the gay rights cause, Kobe Bryant famously used a gay slur aimed at a referee in 2011 and was fined $100,000 for it. Since that incident, Bryant has voiced support for the cause and tweeted “Proud of @jasoncollins43. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU.” Just within an hour of that post, it had already been retweeted more than 20,000 times.
However, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows regarding Collins’ coming out, as new Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace tweeted, “All these beautiful women and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH.” Wallace received a lot of backlash over the tweet, deleted it and tweeted “Never said anything was right or wrong I just said I don’t understand!! Deeply sorry for anyone that I offended.” Many took that as an apology but I don’t believe that admitting ignorance is necessarily the best way to say sorry about anything.
ESPN NBA reporter Chris Broussard also received criticism as he was asked his opinion on Collins’ mention of being a Christian man. Broussard said that if you are living in unrepented sin regardless of what it is (including homosexuality), then it is an “open rebellion to God.” I don’t think the heat that Broussard received as a result of this was justified as he was asked his opinion from the standpoint of an openly religious man.
Broussard later released a statement that said, “As has been the case in the past, my beliefs have not and will not impact my ability to report on the NBA. I believe Jason Collins displayed bravery with his announcement today and I have no objection to him or anyone else playing in the NBA.”
Regardless of the controversy surrounding the statements made about Collins’ coming out, there is no better platform than the NBA to bring this issue to a forefront of major sports in America. Unlike other sports, there is no helmet or hat to get in the way of connecting with a player as a fan as you get to see their faces.
You get a glimpse at the player’s personality and a familiarity with their likeness in the NBA more than any other major sport. I believe that fans will notice that Collins is no different than any other journeyman in the NBA, that he has the same goals as any other player and his work ethic is just as strong as anyone else’s.
The NBA has already been a trendsetter in the sporting world this season when it comes to gay rights as Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has been an activist for the cause. In February, he was the first NBA player to join Athlete Ally which is an organization devoted to fighting homophobia in sports.
Faried is very close to the issue as he was raised by a lesbian couple who entered a civil union in 2007. In a video posted by LGBT rights group One Colorado, Faried discusses his support for civil unions beside his two mothers.
“Nobody can ever tell me I can’t have two mothers, because I really do,” said Faried.
It will be very interesting to see how the players and casual NBA fan react if Collins plays in the league next year. If overnight customized jersey sales for the Washington Wizards on Monday are any indication, then we might be headed in the right direction as 100 percent of those sales were “Collins 98” jerseys.