Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An NBA Player Is Openly Gay. Now What?

Jason Collins

Anyone with a grain of sense already knew that gay people were in the major leagues here in the States. Statistically, it was a no-brainer. What we did not know was the who. This week, one of them stepped forward: a man from the National Basketball Association called Jason Collins. In an interview that will appear in the May 6th edition of Sports Illustrated Collins talks about his experience, and Collins’ twin brother Jarron (also in the NBA) was also interviewed. You can read those interviews online HERE and HERE, so I will spare you the details.

From what I have seen in the hours since the news broke, the responses have been overwhelmingly positive, from Magic Johnson to President Obama and many others. I have only seen two pointedly negative reactions thus far. One was from ESPN commentator Chris Broussard who lambasted Collins saying he is a sinner (as if the world is not filled with billions of them) and said Collins is no Christian. The other was from Liberty Council’s Matthew Barber who decided to talk about sodomy and how Collins should not be celebrate or praised. Then again he is a leader of a hate group so no surprises there. Sidenote: it is ironic (read: hypocritical) how the most ardent religious folk are the most hateful in their rhetoric and act as though Christ would say the things that they say. Now back to our topic…

Gay men in sports has been a topic that was talked about for a very long time and even more so in the past several months. In March, Robbie Rogers (who is only 25 years old) came out but retired in the same announcement. Given his age and health, he could and might come back. In the last few weeks, Alan Gendreau - a kicker formerly from Middle Tennessee University - made news as he decided he was making an attempt at the National Football League this season or the next. Gendreau this season is a long shot just because of the timing and how getting on a team works for kickers, though this season is not impossible. Nike recently said they would sponsor the first man to come out in one of the major leagues. Two things that once seemed diametrically opposed - gay men and sports - have now become inextricably linked in the media. 

Jason (right) & brother Jarron
Having said all of that, what was my reaction? To be honest, it was relief. It is a milestone that has been hyped to the nth degree and people like myself who pay a lot of attention to the topic of gay men in sports have been hearing many of the same talking points ad nauseum. This is another barrier that has been broken and history has been made…hopefully. I am not much of a basketball person but I have friends who are. One of them told me that at age 34 and currently being a free agent, the chances of Collins getting on a team now are not that great, sexuality notwithstanding. This is reminiscent of a soccer player called David Testo. Shortly after he was released by the Montreal Impact, he also released himself from the closet. That was in 2011. While he had hoped to make it back into a football club, he has not played since then (at the “old” age of 30). Since I do not watch - or particularly understand - basketball, I have no idea how good or bad he is. He has lasted about 12 years in the league, so I am guessing he is not terrible. 

Time will tell whether or not he gets signed with another team. Lots of people support him including basketball‘s biggest name, Kobe Bryant. Even Presidents Clinton and Obama and the current First Lady have voiced their support. Time will also tell how this all plays out. There are always the naysayers that predict disaster. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (do not be fooled by the title, this is yet another anti-gay hate group) is on record as saying that a team that has an openly gay player would implode because of the denigration of team cohesion. He and others said the same about the United States military when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed in 2010, but I am pretty sure the military is as intact as it was before. My hunch is that most of his teammates will not care. Even the ones that may not like having a gay teammate will be brought in line by Collins merely being himself and a productive player on the court. Basketball is not just a sport after all, it is a business. These guys want to win. They get paid to win. If an openly gay teammate can help them do those things, there is little else that will matter. Collins now has the opportunity to do this and prove the naysayers wrong.

*In case you are wondering why I am focusing on gay men in sports and not mentioning lesbians in sports, I can assure you it is not a sexist thing. It is that when it comes to stereotypes, there is quite a gulf between gay men and lesbians. It is assumed that lesbians are butch/manly and thus, them being in sports is no surprise to anyone. Conversely, the stereotype of gay men is one of weakness and girliness. These difference stereotypes are part of why we have had lesbians out in team sports for many years now but we have only had an openly gay man in these sports for, literally, a few hours.

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