Jason Collins, Gay Athletes And Our Refusal To Accept Reality

Jason Collins took the first step in changing outdated perceptions and attitudes towards the gay community.

The odds are, when news broke late Monday morning that Jason Collins announced he was gay, 98 percent of the people who heard that said, “Wait, who?”

Unless you are an NBA writer or a fan with an abnormal devotion to NBA minutiae, you likely aren’t familiar with the name. Collins, a 12-year center who played last season for the Washington Wizards, announced the following in a new Sports Illustrated article.

“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.”

The proper response should have been, “Ok, no doubt, but um, I need to check my NFL team’s draft report.” Instead, we’ve gotten breaking news style coverage of it. This is a bit embarrassing. We’ve been tiptoeing around this topic for most of the last calendar year. There have been reports every other week, with sports “insiders” discussing the likelihood that a current player from one of the major sports leagues will reveal his homosexuality. They’ve been preparing us, as if this is going to shake the ground upon which we walk. Though I assume there aren’t seismologists on alert.

Let me just say first that I applaud Collins’ decision to come forward. Regardless of what any of us think about it, that was a major decision.  Knowing that your personal life is going to be dissected piece by piece is a daunting thought. No way that’s easy. No way he didn’t consider the repercussions. Some people will probably insist he’s doing this for profit, a crutch on which to build buzz for an upcoming autobiography, but I haven’t heard anything about a book. Even if that is the case, so what? More power to him.

However, before we denote the next five days as  “Jason Collins Week,” we need to be honest about what this means in the long run. So far, all the reaction has been filled with positive clichés, about honesty and diversity and all those buzzwords that pop up all the time. Without question, this is a huge deal for Collins and his immediate circle, since all their lives are going to change instantly. It’s also significant because it starts the ball rolling on a needed conversation. However, this is not Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett or Dwyane Wade. This is not a star, not a leader amongst men. Collins is just another guy, whose profile was infinitesimal just yesterday. This will now be his legacy. This will lead his Wikipedia page from here on.

But this doesn’t move the line forward. See, the discussion is not whether there are gay players in the pro sports; ask any of us who cover sports and we will tell you, “Yes.” There are a bunch of guys who we figure probably are, but none of us would ever put that into a published piece. That would be a cowardly, unethical thing beyond comprehension. That person would never live that decision down. So, again, whether there are is not the question.

The first question is, will it impact their lives and reputation?  Jason Collins doesn’t have a rep, to begin with; he’s most famous for repping the other half of NBA twins set (his brother’s name is Jarron). There aren’t fathers rummaging through their son’s closets in search of a Collins jersey to throw out. Nobody is wearing his jersey. He’s played with six teams and his career averages are 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds. He’s as nondescript as possible. He’s not a Hall of Famer, an All-Star or even a guy anybody ever had to game plan for, at all. He’s just a respectable, professional grade player. If he were a higher profile player, maybe it would be a different conversation­­ – maybe. But he isn’t. So the most important question is, who, exactly, is not ready?

We just did this last year with Frank Ocean, and guess what, we made it through all right. We are good to go on this. We see it everywhere else, anyway. Very few intelligent, forward-thinking people are going to react in a negative way in regards to this news. Nobody with any sense is going to rush to a computer and start going crazy on a comment thread. Nobody, who understands where we are as a modern society, is going to go on a rant about religion and the ruination of American values. Most of us don’t care and have accepted it already. The prevailing thought that society is ready for this is one that I believe in wholeheartedly. We are emotionally past this, and I, for one, find it a little condescending that we keep coming back to this moment of “is there a gay fill-in-the-blank?” Here in NYC, we are six months from having a lesbian mayor.

The notion that we are still grappling with this as a nation is overrated. Yeah, of course, there are pockets of ignorance and certain GOP members treat this like the last sign of the apocalypse. As well as a few players and sportswriters here and there who will bring up “discomfort” as a potential problem for a gay athlete being on a squad. But I swear, this seems overstated. It’s not like we don’t see this every day.

Gay culture is a part of pop culture, now. For instance, there are very few major shows or movies bereft of a gay character. For the last 15 years, we’ve been bombarded with it and nobody is up in arms. I’m not talking about Will & Grace or Ellen or any of those easy obvious places. I’m talking The Sopranos, Mad Men and The Wire. There was even a gay scene on the last episode of Game of Thrones. Now, to be honest, this caught me off guard and, yes, I’d rather not see two men in bed together. But I didn’t turn the channel. I just sat there and waited, and hoped the next scene involved Daenerys Targaryan. And before anyone reads this and assumes I have a double standard, I make the same claim when it comes to two women. I say to each his or her own, but I prefer men who like women and women who like men. That’s what makes sense to me, but I would never make it difficult for anyone who chose to live differently. In fact, I would fight against anyone who would make someone else’s life difficult for that reason.

As a society, we need to move past this even being a major issue. Who has time to focus on this with everything else going on in the world? This can’t keep being a firestorm moment, where we drop everything to focus on what someone does in their private hours.

We can’t allow idiot politicians who keep fighting in support of DOMA, to hold this issue back or make news out of people’s life choices. Most of us have bills to pay, kids to raise and lives to live. Here’s to hoping the next pro athlete who comes out doesn’t dominate the news cycle for an entire day.


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