When news leaked earlier this week that NBA player Jason Collins had “come out of the closet” in a Sports Illustrated article, talking heads across these fruited plains nearly exploded.
There was talk of Collins being a hero for his brave decision to openly state his sexual identity. There was talk of how other professional basketball players would treat him — both on the court and in the locker room. And there was talk about what this might mean going forward for other gay professional athletes who have hidden their identity from the public, their families and their teammates.
That last one is the topic that interested me the most.
You see, I am one of those people who feel words like “hero” and “genius” are completely overused, and a bit diminished because of that overuse. To me, a hero is somebody who pulls injured people to safety or generally puts his or her life in peril so that another might have another chance at life. What Collins did was brave, no doubt, and could literally change the way some people view homosexuals in the future, and acceptance of everybody is something I value deeply.
But I would label his actions to be those of a trailblazer over a hero.
I know that there are many of you out there who are opposed to gay marriage rights. I get that, and I appreciate those sentiments. I don’t believe it makes you a bigot or homophobic if you have opinions based on Biblical scriptures or teachings from your church, and I believe all churches should have the right to declare what they believe is a valid marriage, as recognized by their core beliefs. I do, however, believe that legally, in this nation, all people should be treated equally, and that means I do believe personally that gay people should have the right to civil unions in a governmental setting, and should have all the benefits included.
But, yes, I digress.
In that vein, I support Collins for his decision to “come out.”
There have been whispers for years that there are many more homosexuals who participate in professional sports than one might think. And there has been the belief that an athlete who proclaimed his or her sexuality would have a difficult time in the often-sophomoric world of the locker room, as well as facing harsh catcalls and abuse from fans in every stadium he or she traveled to throughout a season.
I have seen and read things from many former athletes over the past couple days who believe Collins, who is closer to the end of his NBA career than the beginning after 12 years of professional basketball, will not be able to find a job next season, and that his decision to “come out” now is to set up a potential lawsuit if he is indeed unable to find work.
Who knows? I don’t live in the guy’s head, so I don’t really know his motivation, to be honest. I know that he said he started thinking about making the announcement after the bombings in Boston, and how short life can be and that he didn’t want to live his own life as a lie. But, really, do any of us truly know what made him do it?
No. But I can tell you that there are countless other homosexual athletes watching this very closely. They are paying attention to how Collins is being received by the public, his opponents, his teammates and the media. He is a lone representative for all of them, and I argue that is what makes him a trailblazer today.
In 50 years, will this be a much more accepting nation of people of all orientations? Will people hold up Collins as the first one to break the silence, or will he be a historical footnote in yellowed newspaper clippings — that homosexual pro basketball player who just disappeared into the night?
I’m guessing this is just the start of things to come.
Once one person breaks through any kind of real or imagined barrier, it often lifts others to follow in his or her footsteps to the same place. Is Collins a hero? Not in my mind. But he is the first to do this in a team atmosphere on such a grand stage, and that has to count for something, right?