“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” With this simple statement, veteran NBA player Jason Collins became the first active, openly gay, male athlete in a major United States professional sports league. Collins, who has played for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, is not a household name like Lebron James or Kobe Bryant; however, his coming out has reignited the ever-important discussion on sexual orientation in sports.
Collins has singlehandedly uprooted the argument that sexual orientation has anything to do with athletic ability. Collins has given a face to this issue and brought it into conversation. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jason Collins for having the courage to stand up and say, “This is who I am – take it or leave it.”
Collins’ announcement has garnered an extreme amount of public support, indicating that the times are indeed changing. From President Barack Obama to Steve Nash and Martina Navratilova, individuals from many facets of society have issued statements both supporting Collins and thanking him for his bravery.
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, who was Collins’ roommate at Stanford, said in a statement about the announcement, “For as long as I’ve known Jason Collins he has been defined by three things: his passion for the sport he loves, his unwavering integrity, and the biggest heart you will ever find.”
Interestingly, the most poignant statement of support came from his team’s general manager, Ernie Grunfeld, who said, “We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation.”
In a way, this is not so different from when Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson announced to the world that he was HIV-positive. Johnson was most likely not the first NBA player to contract HIV, but his decision to go public about his condition ignited the conversation and made it okay for other players to do the same. Collins is a catalyst in much the same way.
In his first-person story for Sports Illustrated, Collins wrote, “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
I am hopeful that since Collins has ‘raised his hand,’ other gay athletes will now feel confident raising theirs. Now, other athletes can see that to most of their peers, sexual orientation means nothing and performance on the court means everything.
Since the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, men’s professional sports have really been the last bastion of sexual intolerance. The widespread support for Collins, especially from the Wizards’ GM, leads me to believe that professional sports are moving toward a more progressive stance.
The issue of an openly gay male athlete in professional sports has been the elephant in the room for too long. Thanks to Jason Collins, people finally feel comfortable talking about the issue and hopefully soon, will come to embrace it.