April 29, 2013 6 Comments
Jason Collins is gay.
You might not know who Jason Collins is. He is a 34-year-old journeyman NBA center. He is now the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. Jason Collins came out in a ground breaking article that he wrote for Sports Illustrated.
This was inevitable. The talk of a gay athlete finally coming out has been increasing recently and it was simply a matter of time before someone did it. It takes immense courage to be the first athlete to come out. It is unchartered waters and for Collins to be the first to put himself out there to face the unknown must be commended.
Jason Collins will be likened by some to be the Jackie Robinson of gay athletes.
Although what Jason Collins is doing cannot be diminished, his coming out of the proverbial closet will not be nearly as difficult as what many have anticipated.
Collins writes himself that “I’m glad I’m coming out in 2013 rather than 2003. The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted.” The landscape in 2013 is not one where the public will harass and demonize Jason Collins for being openly gay. The world has changed.
If you take one look at the comments on the article from Sports Illustrated website, the majority of comments are those praising Collins for his bravery. For every negative comment, there is at least one other commenter willing to attack that person’s narrow-minded perspective.
Search Jason Collins on twitter. Read all the tweets mentioning his name. Despite the anonymity and cruelty that is the twitter world, the majority of the people are expressing their congratulations to Collins. Other than the kudos, there are not many tweets harsher than a mildly inappropriate joke, often making fun of his ability as a player or that this should have been Chris Bosh (I still don’t get those ones).
While there are probably lots of other people, especially among the older generation, who may be disgusted by Jason Collins that simply aren’t tweeting or commenting on Sports Illustrated, it shows that entire landscape has changed.
Not only are people much more accepting of homosexuality in general, people who are not accepting of that lifestyle do not publicize their opinion out of fear for being labelled a bigot or a homophobe. In the politically correct North America that we currently live in, the outspokenness of small-minded individuals is lessened due to this fear.
If Jason Collins ever finds his way onto another team at age 34, the first fan to chirp Collins in the stadium about his homosexuality will be met by a whole host of fans defending Collins.
When Jackie Robinson became the first black professional baseball player, you could imagine the outcry from the media.
Jason Collins does not have to face any of that.
Collins will not have to face the scorn of the media. As Collins continues to receive congratulations from left, right and centre around media circles, those in the business who don’t approve of his behaviour cannot speak up. Even those who wish they could speak out against Collins will not because they will get fired.
Jason Collins might never play another NBA game. It will take a bold owner to take on a 34-year-old center who, in almost all likelihood, isn’t good enough to be on an NBA roster anyway. Jason Collins knows that.
The locker room is still the place where acceptance is up in the air. Having to face the public and the media is one thing, but trying to be accepted in the locker room is quite another. It’s the Tim Tebow dilemma all over again, except multiplied exponentially. Teams don’t want the distraction.
This is a monumental day in sports because Jason Collins has opened the floodgates. Gay athletes can now start to reveal their true colours, however slowly that may be, without the anxiety of going down in history as the first to come out.
As straight athletes like Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo continue to speak up for gay athletes to come out, more and more players have warmed to the idea of having an openly homosexual teammate. It just isn’t an obscene concept anymore.
While this is undoubtedly a monumental day, it is not quite as monumental as one would have imagined 10 or even 5 years ago. The world is a different place. Jason Collins, alone, is not bearing the brunt of the blow like pioneers of the past have. There are hundreds of thousands of supporters that are willing to help him along the way. The ignorance is not as real as it once was.
By doing it on his own terms and in such an eloquent way, Jason Collins finally opened the doors that needed to be opened.
But Jackie Robinson, he is not.
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