Today, we cheer for Jason Collins, who began a first-person column for Sports Illustrated by writing the following:
I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.
I don’t feel this urge to cheer for him because he’s a homosexual. After all, I wouldn’t cheer for another athlete because he’s a heterosexual.
Just imagine: High-five! You prefer a particular gender for sexual relations and potential domestic partnership. Yes! Fist bumps all around.
It’s so absurd, and yet, not that far off from what’s actually expressed by those who would attempt to discriminate against a certain type of people based on such things.
I cheer for Jason Collins because I cheer for courage. I cheer for Jason Collins because I cheer for social progress. I cheer for Jason Collins because somewhere there’s a young athlete confused about whom he or she is, and a black 34-year-old NBA center just made it easier for them to understand that they’re not weird, that their preferences aren’t wrong, that what they feel inside might just make them a little bit like Jason Collins. And that’s something for which cheering is worthwhile.
As of the publication of his personal essay, Collins is the first and only openly gay professional male athlete actively participating in a major North American team sport. His announcement has been met – as would be expected – with both positive and negative reactions. The negative can be found in the heaping cesspit of ignorance and hate in the comments section of his column. The positive is seen in the support and praise professional athletes across all sports have given to Collins.
I hope that future generations of sports fans will learn about what Collins wrote today, and recognize it in a manner that’s almost patronizing of the past. “That was great, for them,” they’ll say as they imagine us churning butter, watching cable television and waiting for newspapers to be delivered to our doors. Those who choose to respond negatively to Collins coming out will be seen as cruel and stupid, and probably depicted in future movies as idiot bad guys with really bad teeth and asymmetrical faces. And those who support Collins will be thought of with an attitude that suggests theirs was the obvious response.
Because then it would prove today’s announcement to merely be a first step, a dramatic move in the right direction that encourages others.
Collins is an established basketball player entering free agency. Soon, there will be baseball players in their prime. Then, a NASCAR driver. After that, a hockey player in his rookie season. And eventually, there will be young athletes in college football.
And so on, and so on, until no one will care at all about sexual orientation, which, in my mind, is the ultimate goal.
If all that Collins did today was send a message, the message is a good one, and it’s clear: Sports should be indiscriminate. Skin color, biological makeup, personal preferences and interests don’t matter. All that does is whether or not you can play. And that’s something that absolutely everyone has the right to find out.
Eventually, it won’t be notable to be a gay athlete. It will seem strange that someone had to stand up and tell everyone that they were gay to make it not weird anymore. Jason Collins did that today, and this is why we should cheer for him.
We’re a step closer to being a better species thanks to a 34-year-old NBA center, who is black, and who is gay.