As most of you have heard, an active NBA player recently came out as being gay. No matter what people say, this IS a big deal as there are certain sports which promote a culture of ultra machismo. Jason Collins is a minor role player for the NBA’s Washington Wizards who has just come to the end of his 12th season. He was engaged to a beautiful woman before breaking the news to her as well.
So, what is the Blacknek angle on this story? A large number of people inside and outside of the NBA, including President Obama and Kobe Bryant, have congratulated Collins on his decision to come out. People have even compared his bravery to that of Jackie Robinson. I am glad that Jason Collins has come to terms with who he is and is no longer under the burden of trying to live a lie. I, also, understand why he would be considered a hero to in the closet, gay male athletes worldwide. I don’t want to lessen anything from his personal struggle, but let’ s be clear. This is not a Jackie Robinson situation.
Jackie Robinson was a Black man trying to play in a White league in a society in which Blacks weren’t supposed to integrate with Whites in any way except in clearly defined roles of subservience. He could not come out of the closet because he was born outside of the closet. Now, if Jason Collins came out 20 or even 10 years ago, at a time in which 60% or more of Americans disapproved of homosexuality and gay couples, I would predict that he would have had an even worst experience than Robinson. But we live in a new world. Time magazine recently declared the fight for gay marriage and approval of gay lifestyles all but over. Only a minority percentage still disapprove, and even these know that they better not express their opinions too publicly. The one pro athlete with a negative response to Jason Collins, Mike Wallace, was so swiftly attacked by the public that he deleted his Twitter post in hours. Looking at the situation objectively, for an aging, low productivity support player reaching the end of his contract, his media declaration of his sexuality could be considered a brilliant career move. With a few spoken words, he has moved from a nobody on a nobody team to a national role model, with calls from the President and celebrities, talk show invites, book offers, and endorsements. And how can the Washington Wizards not offer someone now declared an American hero a new contract. I will say strongly that I have no idea if any of these alternative motivations played a role in Collin’s decision to come out as a male athlete, but there has never been a better time in the nation’s history to do so. But while Collins has a surfboard just at the peak of a cultural wave, Robinson’s journey involved rowing a rowboat into a perfect storm surrounded by sharks. Jason Collin has helped lay the groundwork for other current and future gay athletes to no longer hide who they are, and for this he deserves all the praise given, but let’s just keep prospective.