One Small Step for Mankind; One Giant Step for a (Giant) Man
At the beginning of the week, Jason Collins, the journeyman NBA center, came out as openly gay, making him the first professional male athlete to do so in American sports. I encourage every one to read the piece; it is eloquent, passionate, funny, and important.
This has been a long time coming. Statistically speaking, it just makes sense that there are (and have been) gay professional athletes. With the ever-shifting cultural landscape, it was inevitable that somebody would be the first to come out as gay while still employed as a professional athlete.
And I couldn’t be more happy and more proud that it happened in the NBA. In many ways, the NBA is the most individualistic of the team sports. Only 5 players play at once, the rosters are tiny, and the players are the most bare, exposed on the court, wearing only shorts and a tank top, essentially. Every emotion, every action is on full display for viewing and interpretation.
So it would make sense that it could happen in the NBA first, where the player has the most power and the loudest voice. But the NBA also suffers most heavily from two other stereotypes: that athletes are bigoted meatheads, and that African-American men are particularly homophobic.
Which is why I couldn’t be more proud of the NBA family for its overwhelmingly positive, accepting, and loving response. The majority opinion seems to be one of happiness that Collins, an exceedingly well-liked and respected veteran, can finally feel free to be himself. The outpouring of love and acceptance from the NBA’s players and staff has been heartwarming and moving.
Ginobili might have said it best, that hopefully Collins’ announcement can build us towards a future where this information doesn’t matter at all (paraphrasing). The journey to full Gay rights is a long one, filled with lots and lots of tiny steps, adding up over time. Collins’ coming out is huge, but is ultimately just another of these tiny steps. The hope is it’s just a first step, and we can one day remember him as the first player to come out, but certainly not the only one; and that we can look back and wonder why it was such a big deal in the first place.
And while this is a political story, it’s also (and perhaps more importantly) a very personal one. This is a story of a man who took 34 years to reveal his truth, to be fully himself. I can’t imagine the internal turmoil and personal burden to carry around and live a lie for so long. Above all else, I’m happy for Collins, who finally has the courage to be truly and authentically himself; that smile has never seemed so big.
Let’s hope his act helps to ensure a world where everybody is allowed such freedom and joy.
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