Monday was the historic day we have all been waiting for. Jason Collins of the NBA’s Washington Wizards became the first active male professional athlete from an American sports league to announce he was gay.
Despite thousands of athletes playing in the professional ranks in MLB, NFL or NHL for decades, Collins was the first to declare something that we have known all along but have feared to acknowledge: the fact that there are gay male athletes playing sports.
If Collins, a free agent and 12-year veteran of the league, does step onto the court again, it won’t have as significant of an impact as when Jackie Robinson first broke the color barrier in baseball, but what his announcement does do is break another barrier: that it is acceptable to play professionally in America without fear of being who you are, regardless of sexual orientation.
Brittney Griner, the No. 1 overall pick in the recent WNBA Draft, announced weeks ago that she was gay. Although both players announced the same thing, this case is different and carries more significance because Collins is a man.
Superstars from Kobe Bryant to Kevin Durant, as well as current and former teammates of Collins, have expressed their support for him. Because of the politically correct environment we live in and fear of getting labeled as homophobic by the media, it is unlikely we will hear other athletes, except Mike Wallace of the NFL, speak out against Collins’ sexual preference. Still, he in all likelihood will suffer from intolerant verbal abuse from players and fans if he does play in the NBA again.
The announcement marks the first step for Collins. However, the next phase is to actually step onto the court and play. Collins is already at the declining stage of his career and is nothing more than a solid role player off the bench at best. He’s coming off a year where he played a total of 38 games and scored 41 total points, averaging eight minutes per game.
The next NBA team to sign Collins will likely sign him because of his leadership abilities on and off the court. Yet, if no team ends up signing him, it will diminish the importance of him coming out, as there still would not be an openly gay player to play professionally. The magnitude of Collins coming out hinders on if he actually ends up on the roster of an NBA team by next season.
Only then will we be able to see the progress American sports has made in regards to accepting gay athletes into their profession; otherwise, Collins will be just another athlete who came out after his playing days were over. A Stanford graduate and well-spoken individual, Collins serves as the perfect ambassador for gay male athletes in a culture that has repeatedly rejected antimasculine behavior.
There has been a lot of speculation of players in the NFL coming out and it will be interesting to see how football players and the league reacts when this happens, especially since the NFL has had trouble dealing with the sensitivity of the issue. Nonetheless, the NBA has handled this case perfectly with Commissioner David Stern issuing his support.
Collins no doubt made this decision for his own well-being, as he admitted he didn’t intend to be the first male athlete to come out, but his choice to come out marks an important milestone for sports in the country. More importantly, his announcement serves as an inspiration for active and future gay athletes to play their careers being who they are.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo Courtesy of sports.inquirer.net