jason-collins-rebounding

Yesterday was a great day because someone announced they were gay.

It shouldn’t have been news, but it was. This is news, big news. This is the first out active male athlete in the major American team sports. For anyone interested in sports, this was a giant step towards the end of its last great discriminatory boundary. For anyone concerned with gay rights, the accursed world of sports became an accessible arena for discussion. And so for any of us concerned with both, this day was special.

The truly special day will be the one in which announcements such as this are no longer considered special. This ideal, perhaps far-fetched, is still the goal for anyone concerned with the freedom and protection of human dignity. And it is steps such as this, ones which take a sledgehammer to a social stigma that has long needed it, that give us a chance of realizing this.

Therein lies the enormity of Collins’s announcement. He is a veteran, and a widely respected one, who brought an overdue and highly sought-after resolution to the question of who was going to be first, and did so completely out of the blue. More pertinently, he did so correctly. In the Sports Illustrated article that announced his news, Collins speaks from a place of candor and depth of feeling, without the chip on his shoulder that could so readily be developed in light of his situation. His nuanced introspection gives no one any reason to think less of him, to judge his character and the words it brings forth with anything less than sincerity and respect. If you don’t believe homosexuality is right, and/or you think less of homosexuals, Collins is challenging your belief with the very delivery of the words.

Context is needed to temper any overreactions, however. The world hasn’t been changed; indeed, the world of sport might not even recognize any palpable change for a while. Collins’ announcement is but a blip on the global problem of discrimination against homosexuality. We live in a world in which homosexuality remains illegal in 76 countries, and punishable by death in nine of them. Homosexuality remains an unacceptable reality in much of the world and many walks of life. One gay sportsman isn’t stopping this.

However, in the context of team sports, we’re seeing history made. And, with only the rarest of exceptions, we’re seeing this history accepted. In recent years, the likes of Orlando Cruz, Gareth Thomas, John Amaechi, Steven Davies and Brittney Griner have come out, pushing back the barrier slightly further each time. Major American team sports were one of the few hurdles remaining. With this announcement, we get one step closer to normalcy. And normalcy is the aim.

This, then is a plea. A plea then for everyone to both recognize this statement for what it is and for what it isn’t. A plea for everyone to treat Collins the same as they did yesterday, which is a plea he himself rose above making. A plea to other players not to believe Collins isn’t going to start jumping their bones every time he sees them naked (which he’s managed to avoid doing so far), and to dispense with the idea that locker room sanctity is threatened by the realization that people are different. And a plea to us all — if Collins isn’t in the NBA next year, let’s not assume this is why. If we’re willing to believe that being a gay NBA player is no big thing, we must also be willing to believe that being a gay free agent is no big deal, either. If we want to develop a society whereby people do not judge or treat others on their sexuality, we mustn’t look for instances of it happening.

If Jason Collins has already played his last NBA game, let us not forget that he can’t score, rebound, shoot, pass or defend the rim. He contributes very little as a player — even the one tangible strength he does have, his man-to-man defensive versatility on opposing bigs, is mitigated by his foul rates. Indeed, Collins himself lauds his own ability as being good at fouling. That doesn’t cut it for anyone else.

If we want to realize this ideal, whereby coming out means nothing, recognition of Collins as a player must come before any recognition of him as a person. Whatever happens in his career now, Collins’ homosexuality can and will be cited as a reason, be it being left on the shelf (“discrimination!”) or signing with a new team (“great PR move!”). If this happens, the good work will be all for naught. It is up to us to prevent that.

The world is a slightly better place for Collins’ announcement. He’s done his bit. Let’s do our bit to keep it that way.

Comments (14)

  1. I wonder when networks were showing highlights of him playing, why didnt they show any footage of his days on the nets?

  2. “…this was a giant step towards the end of its last great discriminatory boundary.” What about gender and sex?

    • I don’t know if that could be classified as a discriminatory boundary when there’s never been a serious candidate to break it.

  3. I bet Rudy Gay is next.

  4. We know Trey gives good rec league locker room talks, but he upped it here, unlike his haircut which could use the hat back.

  5. Well written article, Deeks. What he did was incredibly brave as a free agent. Usually, players manage their reputations when facing free agency, but Collins did not care about the money he could lose. He thought only about how he could positively impact his world.

    One thing lost in all of this is that Jason Collins is a tough, physical player. He is not ‘soft,’ and in his essay he mentions how he wanted to break that barrier as well. I think you don’t give the Dwight Howard stopper enough credit as a player. He may not get numbers, but he is a crafty guy on defense. He draws charges, boxes out, and on offense sets good screens. Can’t ask for too much more for a back-up big.

  6. To much talk about Collins. I bet he has announced it on purpose to get a new contract. Why talkin’ about someone sex life? You like it in US don’t you?

    • I am an Englishman writing for a Canadian company.

      Interesting to see the juxtaposition between this comment and the one above it, one assuming that the announcement might cost him his career, the other assuming it was a deliberate ploy to lengthen it. Any kind of assumption of this nature is probably unhealthy, yet it is an interesting contrast nonetheless.

  7. Collins is the talk of the NBA right now, playoffs going and all. I always thought a pansy player like Novak would be first, not some 7 foot monster

    • 7-foot gay monsters are people too!

      Also, I always kinda thought Carmelo would come out at some point. No idea what it is that makes me think that.

  8. It’s sad that we now live in a time where being a homosexual or “coming out” is praised. Really is…and I’m not a homophobe if that’s what you are thinking. But come on man how are we basically congratulating and praising this ‘event.’ You are right it shouldn’t have been news.

    • Yeah!

      Why everyone is so hard on for Jackie Robinson for just doing his job back when, I’ll never know!

      But seriously; do you really not get why this is being praised? I mean, really, you’re either the most naively innocent person in the world, or you are, yeah, kind’ve a homophobe.

  9. I’m happy for Collins and the NBA going forward. Cheers from a Canadian in Paris, where gay marriage got voted.

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