Collins Says, “I’m Gay”
It’s going to be big news
I wish it wasn’t
The upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated has a story that most will consider big news …
I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.
I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.
That’s the beginning of a story by Jason Collins, the NBA free agent who played for the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics during the past season. And now the first athlete in a major professional sport to be honest in public about his sexual orientation.
I wish it wasn’t, but of course it’s big news. You’re going to see it on the front page of your local sports section tomorrow, hear it on sports radio and television all day – possibly for a few days. And since Collins is a free agent this angle will be played out in every story about his negotiations for a job next season.
In the SI story, Collins admits that he spent years lying to himself:
When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.
And to others:
I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I’d been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, “Me, too.”
But now he’s a free agent in more ways than one:
Now I’m a free agent, literally and figuratively. I’ve reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.
As support for gay rights, and in particular marriage equality, has grown in recent years, we’ve learned that such support increases as more people learn who among their relatives, co-workers and friends are gay. The coming out of an athlete in a major professional sport breaks yet another barrier and could create another spike in support.
But I’m more interested in the fact that support for gay rights and marriage equality seems inversely correlated to age. More young people are out, more young people know who among their friends are gay, and more young people see in their own lives that it doesn’t really make a different. So I wonder if younger fans might react different today than some of us would have years ago.
When I was a kid, the reaction to such news could have been captured in a haiku like …
Hey, all you young jocks
Jason Collins says he’s gay
Weird, huh? Yeah, I know!
But young people today know better, so it’s probably more like …
Yeah, coach, I heard you
Jason Collins says he’s gay
Why does that matter?
This is big news today.
Soon, I hope, such events will elicit more yawns and fewer news stories, sports talk segments, or blog posts.