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“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” - Jason Collins changes things forever

Matt Vincent
FEATURED WRITER
Editor's Pick
30 Apr 2013, 18:07 IST

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets

“I’m a 34 year old NBA centre. I’m Black. And I’m gay.”

- Jason Collins

Don’t underestimate the value of these words. NBA Centre Jason Collins took a brave and historic step recently by becoming the first pro athlete in any major sport in the United States to admit to being a homosexual whilst still actively playing. In an interview with Sports Illustrated that was published on Monday, the former Washington Wizards Centre and current free agent wrote that he “didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”

A conversation has certainly been started. The media reaction to the news has been vast to say the least, even warranting a response from former President of the United States Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea went to school with Collins at Stanford University. President Clinton gave this statement shortly after hearing the news,  signalling the importance of Collins’ announcement not just in the sporting world, but in the wider world beyond. It is a sentiment that has been echoed by many in the hours following Collins’ news, including NBA Commissioner David Stern, and NFL player and same-sex marriage activist Brandon Ayenbadejo, who tweeted this:

Jason Collins: The Gay Athlete

It is actually quite disheartening that Collins’ statement is so shocking and newsworthy. As former NFL linebacker Scott Fujita so eloquently put it in an article with the New York Times, “Why do we have to explain ourselves when it comes to issues of fairness and equality? Why is common sense not enough?” Statistically speaking, there are hundreds of homosexual men and women currently playing mainstream sports on the national stage, and it is a collective embarrassment that they have largely been left hiding in the shadows, afraid to tell the world who they truly are.

President Clinton hit home when he said that Collins’ statement, whilst an important step for the LGBTA community, was also “the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities.” It has taken far too long for a male athlete in a major American sport to be able to simply admit to who he is. That time cannot ever be erased. It will stand in history as a shameful commentary in itself of society’s prolonged intolerance towards equality.

However, we must look beyond that stain on mankind’s history towards the much brighter future, where such a proclamation of sexuality will not even make the news, let alone dominate it. With help from people like Jason Collins, the feelings surrounding homosexuality in sports are slowly changing from those of oppression and condemnation to tolerance and hope. All prejudices, be it women’s suffrage, racism or homophobia, need champions to speak out and destroy them. Icons like Martina Navratilova and Glenn Burke paved the way years ago for the acceptance of the LGBTA community within the sporting world, and Jason Collins is just the latest voice to add to the growing call for tolerance.

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The importance of this announcement and the impact it will have on society both in America and beyond cannot be overstated. Sports stars lead by example in everything they do, and children grow up wanting to emulate them whether their parents would intend it or not. What Jason Collins has done is the most visible example to date of a sports star letting not just young athletes but young people everywhere know that it is okay to be homosexual; that society will not condemn you for it. Collins himself admitted in the Sports Illustrated interview how daunting societal pressure can be: “I endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew.”

Bill-clinton-speech

President Clinton has been one of the most vocal supporters of Collins in the hours following his announcement

The reaction that Collins received in the hours following his proclamation has proved that his world will not fall apart, and that there really was no need to put himself through those years of misery. More importantly, it serves as an example to others both in the NBA and beyond that they don’t need to put themselves through the misery; that support will be there for those who choose to stop living a lie.

Below is just a selection of the positive responses to Collins’ news:

In his article promoting same-sex marriage in the New York Times, Scott Fujita wrote that “the messages athletes send…can influence many people, especially children.” That is why the messages of support by stars like Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are so important. Whilst Collins shows other homosexuals that it is ok to be gay and proud of it, the reactions of role models like Kobe and Nash teach kids that to accept a person for who they are is always the right thing to do.

Of course, it would be unrealistic to expect everybody to react in the way that Nash and Kobe have. There are still those in the world who will berate Collins for his sexual orientation. He will hear derogatory comments on the streets and anonymous personal attacks on the Internet. And it is no accident that he is making this announcement as a 35-year old in the twilight of his career; it would have been much more difficult for Collins to have gone through his NBA life had he made this announcement as a 25-year old.

haters

There are still those in the world who will berate Collins for his sexual orientation

However, those attacks from bigots and rigid religious groups come with the territory, and it is what makes Collins’ action all the nobler. He now stands with Baseball’s Glenn Burke, Tennis’ Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, and founder of the Gay Games Tom Waddell as torch bearers for the LGBTA community in professional sports the world over. In being among the first to come out and bear the brunt of what negative reaction there was, they have opened the conversation and allowed LGBTA rights to come to the forefront of social consciousness.

It is a conversation that, thanks to Jason Collins, is now in full flow. In raising awareness and receiving the positive and public approval that he has, let us hope that Jason Collins’ brave move paves the way for many more like him to come out of the closet and feel confident enough to profess their sexuality to the world without fear of prejudice or condemnation. There was once a time when racism dictated the views of so many in the sporting world, but with resilience and determination the battle against that prejudice is all but won. Through the courage of people like Jason Collins, homophobia will be beaten in the same way.

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