Gay in the NBA
With all the attention being paid to our gay brothers and sisters—as well as the loosening of social conventions around this stigmatized population—it was only a matter of time before someone in the sports industry “came out.”
And that time, ladies and gentlemen, was Monday.
In a historic and incredibly brave move, 12-year veteran NBA basketball player Jason Collins has just announced that he is homosexual. Doing so makes him the first active professional athlete—within the “Big Four” American sports of football, basketball, baseball and hockey—to openly profess his homosexuality while still playing in the league.
Granted, Collins is a free agent who has played with six different teams during his professional career—the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, New Jersey Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies—and his numbers haven’t been stellar—he averaged just 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds in his more than 700 career games—but this is a trailblazing move, and one that has drawn all kinds of support from people both within the sports industry and without.
“Jason Collins has forever changed the face of sports,” the civil rights group Human Rights Campaign proclaimed.
“We are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Some even anticipate the potential backlash Collins may receive from his future teammates—depending on where he ends up next season—and offer even more words of support and encouragement.
“Collins is a pro’s pro,” Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said of his former player’s announcement. “[And] if you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance.”
I certainly hope Rivers is right, even though the differences between Robinson and Collins are rather profound. Yes, Robinson had to deal with racism at a time when baseball was dominated by white players. And I’m sure his teammates didn’t appreciate having a black man in the locker room, at least not at first. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy transition.
With regard to Collins, though, the picture changes a little. Being black isn’t an issue any longer—at least not as much of an issue—but men expect to share a locker room with other men. That’s just the way it works. But what happens when one of their teammates isn’t just a man, but a gay man? Suddenly, guys start wondering if he’s checking them out in the shower or plotting to somehow steal their heterosexuality from them—as if gays cast some kind of magic spell that suddenly transforms straight guys into queens, for lack of a better word.
I’m also surprised by how many straight men seem to think every gay man in the world will somehow be interested in them romantically, or even sexually. Is it possible they simply aren’t as appealing as they think they are?
The answer is obviously yes.
Whatever comes of this situation, the important thing is that Jason Collins took an important first step today and started the conversation. As a nation—and as we strive to protect the civil rights of every U.S. citizen (including gays, of course)—we need to examine how every marginalized group can be reintegrated into our society in fair and meaningful ways. Yes, gays are getting most of the attention right now, but only because of the way they have been treated—or should I say mistreated—in the past. The same magnifying glass will be applied to other groups in the future, I’m sure, but this is the kind of thing that will help “pave the way” for later discussions.
I commend Jason Collins on being willing to move forward and to put himself out there as he did. It takes balls and, by all accounts, his are pretty damn big.
I just hope his game doesn’t suffer under all that extra weight!