Last Monday, NBA veteran Jason Collins announced his intent to continue playing pro basketball as an openly gay man.
I spent much of the week reading about it, seeing a level of ignorance and hatred (in comment sections and social media postings) that was almost impossible to comprehend, but also plenty of support; clear evidence that the tide has turned, and that Collins is more than likely going to be accepted, and others will follow him.
Still, writing about what Collins has done is not easy. I do so knowing I’m wading into shark-infested waters.
I could easily identify myself as being ‘pro-Gay’, but I think that’s actually kind of stupid. I’m not ‘pro-Gay’, I’m ‘pro-People’. I don’t think gays deserve special treatment, I think they should just have the same rights we all do. I still struggle to figure out why I’m supposed to respect someone’s desire to deny someone else basic constitutional rights as a valid opinion to which they’re entitled. If someone told you they thought blacks shouldn’t be allowed to vote, you wouldn’t say, ‘Well, that’s your opinion and I respect it.’ You’d think they were a retrograde jerk.
You can be ‘opposed to that lifestyle’ all you want. But in the realm of sports, understand that Collins is likely the tip of the iceberg. And if he’s not, if his coming out backfires and keeps others in the closet (which I highly doubt will happen), it won’t change the fact that gays permeate every sport at every adult level. Even here in South Dakota. There are gay players, gay coaches, gay refs and umps, gay administrators, gay commissioners, gay journalists and broadcasters and lots and lots of gay fans.
To pretend that sports is a hetero-only club that needs to be roped off and kept safe from homosexuals is incredibly silly and ignorant. To any player that says, ‘I could never play with a gay teammate’ — guess what, you already have. Amazing that they didn’t try to rape you in the shower, I know (sarcasm font).
A lot of people I know or engage with in social media took the ‘I don’t care one way or another about an athlete’s sexual orientation’ angle when the Collins story broke. Which is great, but if you really ‘don’t care’, then you shouldn’t care that he came out. That’s exactly what ‘not caring’ means.
Some people are saying he should keep it to himself, but how far does that go? What does it even mean? OK, he doesn’t make a public announcement, but is he allowed to go out in public with his significant other? Bring another man to the team Christmas party? Share photos on his facebook page? Or would that be ‘shoving it down our throats’ to quote one of several ignorant talking points.
I get the feeling a lot of folks that say ‘I don’t want to hear about it’ are really saying ‘I don’t like to be reminded of the fact that I’m prejudiced towards these people’.
But you know what? Jason Collins didn’t make this announcement for you, the straight white person who has extreme difficulty seeing anything from any viewpoint other than the straight white person viewpoint.
He made it for the people out there who are gay and feel like they can’t tell anyone. Sure, the potential influence on athletes in team sports is the one getting talked about the most, but there are people out there afraid to tell their parents, their siblings, their lifelong friends. If you’re one of the people out there flinging homophobic slurs or ranting and raving about what the Bible says about homosexuality, stop for one second and consider there may be someone very close to you who is gay and feels trapped, helpless and unloved because of your words and views. People kill themselves over this. Someday it could be someone close to you.
I agree that calling Collins ‘a hero’ or comparing him to Jackie Robinson is a stretch — but to downplay what his announcement means to others is to merely make it obvious how tone deaf you are to the fact that other people may experience the world differently than you do.
And spare me the Jason Collins/Tim Tebow comparisons. No one ever killed themselves because they were afraid to come out as a Christian. No one in today’s America is denied rights because they like Jesus. That’s why Collins is getting headlines and Tebow isn’t. You hear an athlete praise God in an interview every day. Tebow is not unique in that regard. There is no double standard.
And Tebow, for all the scorn he has admittedly taken from certain circles, has been celebrated in the media every bit as much as Collins has. But I guess people with a persecution complex conveniently forget that this guy became one of the most famous players in the NFL largely because of his faith. It sure wasn’t his play on the field.
The real reason I hate talking about this kind of stuff and dreaded writing about it is because it inevitably devolves into a religious argument. Which is silly, because for one, this is a secular country (no really, it is), and two, well, I know the 10 commandments by heart and they don’t say anything about homosexuality.
Well, unless you count the one about adultery, and I don’t see the internet blowing up with Christians condemning Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant to a fiery eternity.
The Bible is also against shellfish, mixed fabrics, divorce, and well, a bunch of other weird and irrelevant stuff.
And remember, to have any sex (even hetero sex) before marriage is a no-no. If everyone who had premarital sex is going to hell there’s going to be an awful lot of prime real estate in heaven.
And again, none of this should even matter, since no religious doctrines have any authority in this country, anyway. Separation of church and state is supposed to be a real thing.
The sad part of writing this, I’ve realized, is that the people in my life who I most wish would read it probably won’t. The overtly religious, the staunch republicans who blame the president for everything from the BCS standings to the weather — they probably stopped reading this as soon it made them feel even the slightest bit defensive.
They’ll dismiss this as the propaganda of a liberal, never stopping to ask how they think Jesus Christ himself would treat Jason Collins.
But the thing is, this isn’t about right vs left, conservative vs liberal, republican vs democrat. I personally wouldn’t dream of self-applying any of those labels. Ever.
It’s about human decency. Homophobia is antiquated and obsolete. Those who cling to it only make themselves look cruel, cowardly and anti-intellectual, like those who believed in slavery or wanted to deny women the right to vote.
You can hold on to those beliefs until your death if you wish, but when you die, they’ll die with you.
Jason Collins has opened a very heavy door, and only those with hate or fear in their hearts will try to block the way through.