It has been a few hours now since the Sports Illustrated story of Jason Collins went public. While we are all trying to rationalize or positions on the issue — both sides equally polarizing and easily justifiable — sports have once again thrust a major, complex and topical story to the headlines.
The comparisons are being quickly made to that of Jackie Robinson. Understandable but there are some large differences. For Robinson, or the African-American community of the time (as well as now), there was no way for them to be black and/or gay or lesbian athletes. Also, even though they are similar in that barriers needed to be broken, they are different, as they are not dealing with the same era or perceived tolerance on such topics.
That said, they are equally as important as the other, although Collins outing himself would not be imaginable had it not been for Robinson.
As his announcement comes with his playing career being on the fringe, those who disagree with the gay lifestyle or is a cynic of everyday life events might call Collins’ revelation a publicity stunt to keep his career going. To be honest though, everyone who has spoken about Collins today has said that there is not a finer man who comes from a better family on the planet.
Collins will be entering his 13th season next year — assuming he lands another job. Multiple athletes have already come out to publicly back him. More importantly, some GMs have been sourced as saying they don’t care as long as he can play. While that is great, it would also be naive to think everyone in the league is so open-minded.
Sports have always managed to find its way into the realm of topical issues. It is as if the discussion of certain topics can’t be done until sports have found a way to sift through it first. For all the fun we poke at athletes, they are certainly more educated and secure in some well-informed topics than we give them credit for. Not all of them mind you, but enough to make Collins feel like his lifestyle is not something that will keep him from continuing on in his career without him having to be silent about it.
We are all being quick to assume that Collins “outing” himself will open up the floodgates for professional athletes to come out of the closet. While that could be true, it is much more possible that they will pay close attention to see how Collins is greeted by media, fans and colleagues. The initial support may be great, but it can dwindle quickly as people who oppose Collins lifestyle will start to dig up dirt on the man — trying to paint him in a misguided, negative homosexual light instead of letting the story speak for itself.
The biggest concern for the lesbian and gay community before Collins’ story was not only if/when an athlete went public about being gay — it was about if the “right” person was going to do it first. Just because a person took on the mantle of being the first outed athlete in major team sports does not mean they are ready to take on the role of leadership in the LGBT community.
It is not like the community “had” to back the first outed athlete, as they might not want that person to be their spokesperson.
Everything you may have read or heard about Collins today though, shows that a better man could not have done it first. Unfortunately, the first day of him being publicly gay may end up being his easiest. The rest of his journey will be of a man enduring homophobic slurs, trying to land another NBA job as well as doing so while representing an entire community of people who are hoping he succeeds.
Sadly, he will be doing that while a slew of others will be waiting for him to fail.
Regardless of which “side” you fall on with the topic of gays in life or sports, please just remember — tolerance works both ways. Be open, be available for smart discussions and don’t be afraid of something because you don’t understand it. I mean, I don’t understand Chris Berman when he talks, but I’m sure as heck not afraid of the guy.
Joe is a Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone