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MORRISSEY: Jason Collins leads the way for gay athletes

Updated: April 29, 2013 10:42PM

There. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

By coming out on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Jason Collins has become the first openly gay male professional athlete in the four major American team sports.

The world didn’t end. No biblical plague arrived. People seemed … fine.

For all the fretting, for all the concern that there would be a huge backlash against the first athlete who decided to come out, it was nowhere to be seen in the immediate aftermath of his announcement. 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 take from 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.

He’s the perfect person to handle this. He’s 34. He just finished his 12th season. He’s a journeyman and a bench player now. He’s mature. He can speak with intelligence on this 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 Washington and Boston 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?

Time will tell how much hatred Collins will encounter. I think it will be far weaker than the support he’ll get. Too many people have brothers, sisters and children who are gay.

For 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.”

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