Jason Collins, the fan, and hearts and minds

Jonathan Daniel

In a brilliant, self-penned article in Sports Illustrated --- Jason Colins, free agent center for the Washington Wizards became the first major professional sports athlete in the US declare that he is homosexual. With any hope, there will be many many more who follow his lead.

In October, I wrote my "coming out" story. In it I just summed up my feelings as someone who covers sports and is gay. Defying the gay stereotype and fitting in when everyone else has preconceived notions about what being "gay" is. Well, I wrote that piece thinking that it would be a very long time before we see an openly gay athlete. I have to admit I am a cynical person by nature, so while advocating and indeed suggesting that homosexual athletes come out of the closet, it occurred to me that maybe it was being a bit on the optimistic side.

Monday morning, Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards came out of the closet as an openly gay male. I encourage everyone to read his article, Collins may have a future in writing when he gets out of the NBA. He is the first male professional athlete in any of the major sports in the United States to come out while still being an active player. A monumental event that I hoped had been coming for a long, long time. An outpouring of support from players across the NBA came filing in one by one. Tweets from Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and more, all supportive,

One even came in from Kenneth Faried:

Coming from someone as supportive and amazing as the Manimal put a very nice capstone on what was a glorious day for people who have been desirous to live openly within professional sports. My general feeling is it's about time, thank you. I will probably never know the amount of personal torment that professional athletes feel. Everyone goes through something different when it comes to something this personal, I had my own demons to wrestle with, but it sounds like Jason Collins, for lack of a better term, has his shit together.

So what of the rest of the league? Well, I don't believe that will be as big a problem as people think. By and large, athletes treat this as their job. Something they essentially have to "punch a clock" and come in and do work, then they leave to do whatever it is professional athletes do. Fan reaction is another subject all together. Something that is much more tricky to deal with.

While Jason Collins' own ability to step out of the closet is showing a way forward, any glance at the comment section of a post about this story and you will see that opinion isn't nearly unified on the subject. In fact, it's still one of the most polarizing subjects in the United States. While I don't agree with people who are on the opposite side of this issue, it's hard for me to wag my finger at them and tell them to shut up. It's a free country and you are allowed to say these things. As long and you are willing to understand people will disagree with you then a civil, public debate can unfold. The only way you change hearts and minds is if you have a chance to exchange ideas with them.

In the past I have railed against people like Mark Knudson whose assertion that gay athletes should stay closeted because, you know, for the "good of the team" (whatever that means). While I completely and categorically disagree with Mr. Knudson, I'm not going to say he should shut up. His viewpoint is extremely ignorant and intolerant, but he must understand that people like me will call him out publicly. I'm not, however, going to tell him to be silenced. This sort of viewpoint needs full and complete public debate.

Same thing with Chris Broussard of ESPN, who had some interesting comments regarding this subject and Christianity on the Outside the Lines program on ESPN. The funny thing is, he never really answered the question about Jason Collins, he in fact just stated his opinion on homosexuality. So rather than answer the question in the NBA context, Broussard chose to give the stock religious statement regarding homosexuality being a sin. That's his opinion, he is entitled to it, but he must understand that there are people who don't agree with this point of view and they will vigorously debate him over it. It should go without saying that I don't agree with anything he said. Strikes me as extremely narrow minded excludes a lot of straight couples who "walk in sin" every day of their lives. But whatever.

These are just people who work in the media. The fans seem divided. In any case, I believe that this will not be an easy road for Jason Collins and he has, unequivocally, my utmost respect, admiration and undying support for the big step he took and the difficult road he will travel. One hopes that over time people will relax about this issue. The gay male athlete needs to be just "athlete" after awhile. Be open about your sexuality, and have people accept you as you are. Human.

That's what any person would want I think.

***

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