NBA player Jason Collins has announced he is gay.
It is a reality. A player in one of the 4 major professional sports leagues in North America has come out. Jason Collins, who played this season for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, has announced he is gay. He is the first active player in the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB to do so.
Last Friday I wrote about the momentum that seemed to be building to this moment. After months of speculation about whether an active NFL player might come out, the league announced last week its intention to emphasize LGBTQ inclusion during its rookie orientation and Football Operations Meeting.
This came on the heels of Kenneth Faried’s support of Athlete Ally, an organization that works to encourage inclusion among players, coaches and fans in the sports community. Faried, who made headlines more recently for kicking a hole in a locker room wall after a loss that has put his Denver Nuggets on the brink of elimination from the NBA playoffs, was raised by two mothers.
And, of course, there was the furor last fall over Maryland Assemblyman Emmett Burns’ criticism of the Baltimore Ravens’ Brendon Ayanbadejo for his support of a gay marriage initiative in that state. The letter Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote in support of Ayanbadejo went viral.
But all of that, as important as it may have been, was nibbling at the edges. We had yet to see a player come out, to begin to tear down stereotypes of what it means to be a gay man. That is no longer the case. Jason Collins is fully cognizant of the symbolism of his announcement. He is aware of the stereotypes he is contradicting. As he writes in the Sports Illustrated article announcing he is gay,”I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I’ve always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn’t make you soft? Who knows? That’s something for a psychologist to unravel. My motivations, like my contributions, don’t show up in box scores, and frankly I don’t care about stats. Winning is what counts. I want to be evaluated as a team player.”
We are still a long way from the point at which players – straight and gay – will be evaluated strictly upon whether they help their team win. Jason Collins is the first hole in the dam, though, a dam that, hopefully, is about to burst.
And the great thing about sports is that, despite being a hypermasculine world, it is also a hypercompetitive one. It is the reason why the professional sports leagues integrated in this country before so many other institutions.
For that reason, though there may be some initial backlash against Jason Collins, once the initial shock of his announcement wears off, it’s likely that the only question that will matter is, As my teammate, does he help us win? And that is as it should be.
Photo: AP File/Michael Dwyer