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TELANDER: Jason Collins’ announcement big step for him, giant one for sports

6-24-07 Scenes from Pride 2007 parade Boys town. Grmarshall former NBA player John Amaechi. Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

6-24-07 Scenes from the Pride 2007 parade in Boys town. Grand marshall former NBA player John Amaechi. Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

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Updated: May 5, 2013 12:16AM

So has the gay dust settled?

After journeyman NBA center Jason Collins came out last week as the first active homosexual men’s player in a major U.S. team sport, it seemed everybody on the planet weighed in.

Most congratulated him for his courage. First lady Michelle Obama was supportive. Former President Bill Clinton had sweet words. So did Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, on and on.

You might have thought Collins had become the first man to set foot on Mars rather than taking a difficult, intimidating and very personal step out of
the closet.

Among the interesting elements to the story are that Collins has an identical twin brother, Jarron, who recently retired from the NBA; that Collins, a 12-year veteran, is a sturdy 7-foot, 255-pounder known for aggressive play; that he is a graduate of academically prestigious Stanford University; and that he is an African American.

Beyond that, hey, he’s just a normal dude!

Folks have been calling Collins the Jackie Robinson of sexual-preference integration, and there certainly is a historic element to his stepping forward.

‘‘This news is that big a deal,’’ Christine Brennan wrote in USA Today.

But what we see in the wake of the initial surprise and confetti-tossing is something far more complicated than Robinson’s integration of Major League Baseball 66 years ago.

Back then, Robinson — who had been selected carefully for his skill and demeanor — had to fight his battle alone, in very real jeopardy of being harmed, even killed. By definition, he was the first, the only, without a safety net.

Collins absolutely is surrounded by other gay athletes, coaches, executives, even ballboys, trainers and announcers.
We just don’t know whom they are yet. They’ll be coming out someday, likely in a trickle, as they wait and see how Collins fares. But they’ll be following. And they’re there.

Perhaps the biggest thing Collins did with his self-outing in Sports Illustrated was to announce to a sporting world: We exist!

The complex part is that most of us knew this and have greeted Collins announcement with a smiling shrug.

What about former NBA player John Amaechi? What about former Los Angeles Dodger Glenn Burke, who was friends with manager Tommy Lasorda’s gay son, Tommy Jr.? What about former major-league journeyman Billy Bean, who was the grand marshal of Chicago’s Pride Parade in 2003? What about former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s gay son, Andrew, an executive with PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in New York? What about former NFL defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo, Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts and former Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy?

Maybe they didn’t come out when they were under the microscope, but they came out. Don’t they count?

How about Denver Nuggets power forward Kenneth ‘‘Manimal’’ Faried, who has gone public about his support of gay marriage and of his lesbian mother and her partner, stating with a photo of the three: ‘‘Meet my two moms’’?

That counts, right? To most of us it does.

But to some white and African-American Christian churches and other conservative groups, it doesn’t mean a thing. And Collins is nothing but a sinner and a jerk.

Well, those folks had better wake up. The stigma of formerly oppressed black-church groups not understanding what prejudice is, well, that’s particularly harsh. And out of time.

‘‘The retreat of antigay feeling in the secular West probably has much to do with the realization that homosexuality is not a choice, a ‘lifestyle,’ but, rather, a life,’’ gay critic Alex Ross wrote in a recent essay for the New Yorker.

With that retreat, we also should have the courage and freedom to talk openly about gays and their rights and not have to hide under a fake veil of cheery political correctness. Charles Barkley, who saluted Collins on his announcement, said he hoped people would be ‘‘able to disagree if they don’t like it and not get crucified.’’

Me, too.

But they’d better realize this is here to stay. The Jason Collinses of the world are just beginning to walk forward. And it’s not going
to hurt heterosexuals. We’ll be fine, folks.

Indeed, I’m still waiting for that active team-sport superstar to come out. Collins, a 34-year-old never-has-been who finished the season with the woeful Washington Wizards, might be done as an NBA player.

Here’s what Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, a Brooklyn guy who remembers and reveres Robinson and his ‘‘outing’’ with the Dodgers in 1947, could do: He could sign Collins next season.
Let him end his career as a Bull. Nice legacy.

And then we all will move on.

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