Did you see after Louisville won the NCAA basketball championship how CBS zoomed in on their coach, Rick Pitino, kissing his wife? Or how about the BCS championship game when Brent Musberger went on and on about how good looking the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback, AJ McCarron, is. He went so nuts that it was a national story and she got a modeling contract with Sports Illustrated for their swimsuit issue. A few weeks ago Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn made an announcement that they were dating and sent out pictures of themselves cuddling and laughing. And don’t get me started with how the media is obsessed with Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen or who Derek Jeter is dating.
All of these stories and more are on the TV, on ESPN.com, in magazines, etc. It seems like every day we are inundated with these types of images. I don’t care that these people are happily married, like people romantically of the opposite sex and I certainly don’t want to see them kissing or in photo shoots. Why can’t the media just focus on sports and not the personal lives of these athletes? What they do in their private time is their business and not a sports story. Why is any of this news?
The above is essentially the argument made by people that don’t want to read about Jason Collins announcing he’s gay or anyone supporting him or any other LGBT person that has any connection to sports. It’s the new way of being prejudiced against gays and others. Same sex relationships have rapidly become more accepted, so most people can’t come out and say that they don’t like gays or that their lifestyle disgusts them. They know that they’d receive backlash as they’ve seen it happen to others. Google Tim Hardaway and gay teammates if you want to see Exhibit A.
So now, the most common response to these stories is to state that they have no place in sports and that sexuality doesn’t matter so it shouldn’t be mentioned at all. It’s a “safe” way to say that you disagree with that lifestyle while trying to not offend someone or be outed yourself as prejudiced.
While I vehemently disagree with anyone who doesn’t understand the social significance and bravery of Jason Collins, I actually have more respect for people that can honestly state that they are disgusted by that lifestyle than I do for these people that pretend to be offended that an athlete’s personal life is being talked about. They are just trying to disguise their homophobia.
Many of these homophobes say “Straight athletes aren’t announcing their sexuality, so why should gay ones flaunt theirs?” Aside from ignoring the thousands of examples where players wives are zoomed in on, players appear with their family on the runway somewhere or the existence of websites dedicated to WAGS (again, Google if not familiar), this response ignores the fact that gays are still widely discriminated against. Illinois is one of the few states where it’s illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation. Things are surely better now than they were even 5-10 years ago, but you don’t have to look very far to find people on TV railing against homosexuality as an abomination of God’s will and telling people like Collins that they are doomed to burn in hell.
Kids hear this type of disgusting talk too and for some it leads to suicide or an extremely difficult adjustment in to adulthood. Jason Collins is the first major sports athlete who can properly serve as a role model for these youth and hopefully help some of them realize the beauty of life and that all things are possible, even as you struggle with a part of your existence that you know some will never accept (often parents and close friends).
Beyond all of this, the most important thing that Jason Collins did was to start a dialogue. Getting people comfortable with the idea that a teammate or hometown player can be gay is important to helping us grow as a society. And while the plight of the LGBT community today isn’t as severe as the fight for civil rights in the 1950’s and 1960’s, they do share a common thread. And just as Jackie Robinson allowed people to see African-Americans in a normal way and breakdown terrible prejudices, the bravery of Jason Collins has the potential for the same impact. I am hopeful that thirty years from now, my grandchildren will look back in shock and disgust that there was once a time that people were ostracized and not able to marry or keep a job just because of their sexual orientation. I imagine the conversation will be similar to the one I had with my grandmother when she told me about the time that black people had to use separate bathroom facilities and drinking fountains.
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