As an NBA player, Jason Collins is as useful as Justin Bieber playing point guard for the Chicago Bulls. The journeyman center, who’s been signed to six teams throughout his anonymous 12-year career, is what basketball aficionados call a warm body. His anemic career average has amounted to a paltry 3 points and 3 rebounds a game. Collins is the proverbial 12th man; a stiff blessed with towering height and the ability to utilize six fouls; a player, who may or may not return to the NBA following his invisible season as a member of the Washington Wizards. And yet, Jason Collins is currently the talk of the sports world and beyond with his recent shocking public revelation that he is the first openly gay athlete in a major U.S. team sport.
By now, you’ve read Collins’ brave open letter in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” he wrote, later adding, “No one wants to live in fear. 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.”
Monday night, Collins followed up his announcement with an exclusive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, saying of his headline-making actions, “I hope that every player makes a decision that leads to their own happiness…I know that I, right now, am the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life. A huge weight has been lifted.”
With the gay political contingent in full support and a flurry of words of encouragement from everyone from NBA peers Kobe Bryant and the player-formerly-known as Ron Artest to diehard sports fan President Barack Obama, who personally called Collins up to offer his unyielding support, the California native’s open stand has largely been viewed as a cultural landmark happening for the LGBT community.
Indeed, Collins’ coming out arrives at the same time when Americans are showing increasing support for gay marriage (A March CBS poll shows that 53 percent believes that it should be legal for same-sex couples to marry).
But such feel good moments don’t truly represent the soul of America.
The real heart of these United States is captured by newly-signed Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace tweeting of Collins’ personal sexual revelation, “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH…” It’s ESPN NBA analyst Chris Broussard honestly expressing, “I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is…” (Give the perpetually wrong basketball mole credit for calling it straight down the middle). Not to be outdone, CBS play-by-play announcer and radio host Tim Brando added a slight racial/ageist angle to the debate, saying of Collins, “Being a Christian White male over 50 that’s raised a family means nothing in today’s culture. The sad truth. Period.” And as if Brando wasn’t clear enough, he reversed his car over the carcass, dismissing any notion of Collins being a hero.
Really, you have to respect a person willing to make such statements, no matter how unpopular, archaic or brazenly stupid it is. That’s the beauty of free speech. Yet this hardened contingent are the sole reason why NFL player Kerry Rhodes is continuing to sprint away from reports that he is gay following photo leaks of himself and an assistant looking far less than just friends. “It was definitely [already out] just nobody was talking about it,” said the man in question who described his relationship with Rhodes as that of a husband and wife dynamic. “I’m not outing Kerry. Kerry outed himself when he was asked a question and he responded. I’m helping out the little groupies standing outside the gate. I wasn’t the little girl outside the gate. I was the girl inside the gate, getting in the truck with him with my red bottoms on.”
Rhodes’ ex-assistant’s own bombshell revelation proves two things: The LBGT family has their own loud and wrong individuals who are just as ratchet as Mr. I Hit It First himself—Ray J. And that it’s much easier for most of us to feign support for Collins because it makes us feel better about ourselves.
No, Collins is far from being the gay Jackie Robinson as some individuals are lauding him. That mantle should go to tennis legend and gay sports pioneer Martina Navratilova, who actually lost endorsement money after being outed in 1981 in a New York Daily News article. She went on to dominate her sport—nine time Wimbledon winner, thank you—proudly waving the gay civil rights flag for the entire world to see.
What Collins really represents is an individual who stepped outside the shadows into his own truth, which will no doubt encourage other people who are fearful of coming out to friends, family and colleagues. It’s a small, yet powerful step for gay acceptance in male-dominated professional sports.
However, when we’re able to refer to Jason Collins as just a random 7-foot scrub who gets less play than Rush Limbaugh at an Essence mixer, that’s true progress, folks.—Keith Murphy (murphdogg29)