NBA player Jason Collins became the first athlete from a major men’s professional sport to come out while still playing in the league. You can read his story in his own words here in Sports Illustrated.
I think this is significant for a number of reasons. Sports has always been an arena that push’s the boundaries of social progress and reform. It also influences culture in very strong ways.
I also think this is significant in that it helps address some of the fears people have about gay people. Truth be told, much of the anti-gay sentiment (especially among men) is based less on moral or theological conviction, than some weird discomfort “ick factor” about homosexuality. This, of course, is totally irrational and says more about the individual than it does about the morality or acceptance of homosexuality. I appreciate that Collins addresses this issue head on:
I’ve been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I’m a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now. My conduct won’t change. I still abide by the adage, “What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.” I’m still a model of discretion.
One of the really encouraging things today has been the positive reaction and support Collins has gotten from teammates and others. Of course, not all of the responses have been positive (like here).
The other thing that struck me about this story is how much I could relate to Jason’s story. Normally, I have very little in common with professional basketball players. But Jason is coming out at the same age I was outed, and many of his words truly resonate with my experience and the experience of friends I know:
By its nature, my double life has kept me from getting close to any of my teammates. Early in my career I worked hard at acting straight, but as I got more comfortable in my straight mask it required less effort… No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.
My final thought on Jason Collins is that I am surprised at how emotional I got reading his account. And I am surprised at how much I care that an active NBA player has come out. Why does it matter to me? Because it is another story of hope and redemption. It is another step towards a world where people won’t need to hide who they are in order to excel and live a great life. And because in his words I can hear both his pain and new found joy… and I totally get both. And because it will help gay teens and gay athletes take their next step towards authenticity, openness and freedom — and that is a really good thing.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?