MORRISSEY: Openly-gay NBA player Jason Collins is the right man at the right time
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org April 29, 2013 10:36PM
FILE: NBA Player Jason Collins Comes Out As Gay
Updated: June 1, 2013 6:35AM
Jason Collins has become the first openly gay male professional athlete in the four major American team sports.
That’s a lot of modifiers, and it speaks both to the progress made in women’s sports and to the irrational fear that has always been part of men’s sports: You can’t have homosexuals in the locker room!
But a new day dawned Monday, and the world didn’t end. No biblical plague arrived. Most people seemed … fine.
ESPN’s Chris Broussard did say that homosexuality is an “open rebellion to God.’’ No, an open rebellion to God is failing to love your neighbor.
For all the fretting, for all the concern that there would be a huge backlash against the first athlete who decided to come out, the backlash was nowhere to be seen in the immediate aftermath of his cover story in Sports Illustrated. It still felt revolutionary. It still felt absolutely courageous. But more than anything, it just felt right, didn’t it? That’s the biggest thing to come out of Monday’s news — that, in the end, it was more a sigh of relief. That sigh said, “It’s about time.’’
In one sense, the whole thing was silly. Of course there are gay men who are professional athletes. In most every other walk of life, there are openly gay men. Why wouldn’t there be in sports?
“The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted,’’ Collins wrote in Sports Illustrated. “And yet we still have so much farther to go.”
Lots of people say that the locker room is the last bastion of machismo. And there certainly are some knuckle-draggers. You’ll recall that Chris Culliver, the 49ers defensive back, said at the Super Bowl that he couldn’t welcome a gay teammate.
“We don’t have any gay guys on the team,” he said. “They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”
But sometimes I wonder if we aren’t giving players enough credit. The guess here is that the majority of pro athletes in the four major sports will have no issue with Collins or the other gay athletes who will inevitably follow his lead. After his announcement, there was a flood of support for Collins from fellow athletes on Twitter.
Frankly, I worry more about coaches and front-office people than I do players. Some of them are products of less-enlightened times. Many of the coaches are control freaks who worry about everything, including team chemistry. You can almost hear the wheels spinning inside their heads: How will this affect the locker room? Will this cause a schism? How do I deal with something I’ve never dealt with before?
The answer to the last question: By being human. By treating everybody the same. By demanding that players respect one another. By refusing to reject a gay player just because of the difficult challenges that might confront the organization.
I have no doubt that, alongside all the supportive messages, idiocy is flowing freely through social media. That’s because there are a lot of idiots in the world. The 34-year-old Collins might be the perfect person to handle all of it, the good and the bad. He just finished his 12th season. He’s mature. He can speak with intelligence on the issue. He can deal with criticism. He can ignore the lunatic fringe. And he won’t have to face years of scrutiny as an active player.
A younger player might not handle it as well. A star might not want another layer of fame. Maybe the next person will have a more difficult time. But Collins is the right person at the right time.
After playing for Boston and Washington this season, he’s now a free agent. His announcement ensures that some team will sign him. Can you imagine how bad it would look for the NBA if no team stepped forward with a contract?
Time will tell how much hatred Collins will encounter, but I think it will be far less than the support he’ll receive. Too many people have gay brothers, sisters and children.
To the fans, players and coaches who are uncomfortable with the idea of an openly gay NBA player, get over it. It’s done.
“I’m happy to start the conversation,’’ Collins said. “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.”