Monday, April 29, 2013

Jason Collins coming out as gay changes more than just the NBA


NBA free agent Jason Collins is not known for particularly memorable on-court performances, but the spotlight is now shining brightly on him because he just made history. The 34-year-old wrote in a story for Sports Illustrated:

            I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.

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.

By coming out as the first active, gay professional male athlete, Collins has immediately changes the course of the NBA's future. The door is open for gay players to come out. The boldness of Collins' openness increases particularly in light of homophobic comments that have been made in sports recently, the most shocking being San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver saying on Media Day before Super Bowl XLVII that openly gay players are not welcome on the (49ers) team.

Strong backlash ensued after those comments and Culliver did retract them, but his point was all too clear: the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that the US military has recently revoked was an unwritten rule in sports. Legendary coach Phil Jackson went so far as to say that he never saw a gay NBA player. The message to any gay player had been clear: if there are any of you, keep it quiet.

Collins came forward with a powerful "no, I won't be quiet" to that and has forever changed the landscape of sports. The machismo that comes with being a professional male athlete has drawn a disconnect between both gays in pro sports and the general American sentiments on this issue. It’s a fact that Americans are increasingly more supportive of gay rights. Even Republicans have spent money lobbying for gay marriage. Yet somehow the discussion of gay rights in sports had remained silent.

Jason Collins boldly stepped forward as a man to change that and most importantly, his initiative will provide a strong boost to the progress of gay rights in the United States. Now, homophobia in pro sports is put on blast. And what better place to do it than in American professional sports…a place so integrated into our daily lives. Acceptance will need to come from one of the areas that was rather unwelcoming to openly declared gay men considering there were a grand total of zero prior to Collins. It will spark discussion from our youngest sports fans and athletes to the oldest, more experienced fans and athletes.

In a show of how powerful one individual can be, this excellent example proves how one (mediocre) basketball player can pave the way for future athletes to come out. One person can provide a figure for the gay rights movement in sports. Masculinity is innately built into male professional sports and now people can see proof that being heterosexual is simply not a prerequisite to make it to the grandest stage in basketball.

A veteran of the league, Jason Collins will be ready for whatever comes his way.

High profile players like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Baron Davis have already jumped to support Collins. Using the leverage that these athletes have for the well-being of humanity is ultimately what sports are all about.
It says more about the people who dish out homophobic comments than the recipients of those harsh words and hopefully this will prove to be a large step in the right direction progressing to more than just acceptance. That doesn't mean that the road will be easy, but Collins put himself out in the open at the risk of intolerance for the goal of bettering sports and society. That is more important than the result of any playoff game.

Sports like the NBA symbolize and represent the American heart and soul. It must follow that these games proudly represent all of our diversity.

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