He’s a 34 year old NBA center. He’s black. And he’s gay. On Monday afternoon, NBA free agent Jason Collins became the “first active player in major American team sports to announce that he is gay,” as ESPN put it.
Reactions to this were, as was to be expected, mixed. However, somewhat unpredictably, the reactions among athletes seemed to be overwhelmingly positive. Kobe Bryant tweeted “Proud of @jasoncollins34, don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU.” In just hours, stories of Collins’s bold statement hit the internet, written by outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, ABCNews, and so on. Former president and pseudo-expert on the ins and outs of what is taboo in the sexual world Bill Clinton tweeted that he was “proud to call Collins a friend.”
Unfortunately, where there are supporters of equality, there are those who oppose it. While Chris Culliver has (as of 5:05 Monday evening) made the wise choice to keep his mouth shut on the issue, Mike Wallace, wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins decided to voice his opinion. Wallace tweeted “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys.” He later went on to explain that he wasn’t bashing on anyone, he was just confused. Perhaps football practice at the University of Mississippi conflicted with his sex-ed class.
Another player who expressed his disagreement with Collins’s decision was free agent cornerback Alphonso Smith, who is most well known for missing two tackles on Deion Branch on the same play on Thanksgiving two years ago. Smith tweeted “Come OUT or NOT- there will be no PATS on the BACK coming from this way,” going on to explain that it was ludicrous that in 2013 coming out as gay is “good news.” Clearly we are behind the times with our acceptance of those different than us.
One of the top rated comments on ESPN’s article regarding Collins read “Another non story. Who cares. Great Jason thanks for telling the world what you prefer in 2013 when there are a lot more important things going on in this country and world.” This person seems to think that covering the first time a professional athlete in America has come out of the closet during his playing career should be an afterthought. Maybe we could get some stories on how an NFL coach would fix the economy if he were the president. While that particular commenter may have not been impressed by Collins’s decision, this is an immense step forward in the proper treatment and acceptance of homosexuals in the world of sports.
I’d like to take credit for this; I envision Collins picking up his weekly issue of the Snapper, reclining back in his chair with a cup of coffee, reading my previous article, and deciding then and there that it was time to come out. Putting my ego aside in favor of a more realistic outlook shows what really propelled Collins to openly admit his homosexuality: courage.
As has been stated and stated again, professional sports seem to be a breeding ground for homophobia. Collins coming out of the closet during his playing career is something no man has ever done, something that took courage beyond what I myself could muster up. No one, not even Collins himself knew what type of reaction the announcement would have, and frankly I don’t think Collins cared. He didn’t make the announcement to draw publicity towards himself, he did it to show the rest of the gay community that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Collins wrote, in part, “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.” Raise away, Mr. Collins, hopefully your act of pure courage and honesty will inspire others to follow in your footsteps. Maybe one day there will be a time when Collins won’t be the one who is labeled as “different” for being an openly gay athlete.
Collins has opened the door for his fellow athletes to express who they really are. He is as he put it, “a free agent, literally and figuratively”. At this point in time, a gay athlete coming out certainly is newsworthy; I just hope for the opposite, that in the near future the guy who says “who cares?” will be the voice of reason.