Editor, White Cover Magazine
There will be a lot of people congratulating Jason Collins today, and deservedly so. As the first openly gay athlete in a major North American sport , Collins is a very, very brave man, and any other gay athletes afraid of being that first one have a potential hero or icon to follow, to look up to, and to rally behind.
(It’s also the first time almost anybody has heard of Jason Collins, other than this.)
There’s not a lot more to say here other than that. Right now, it’s simply a news story. The facts are above, and Collins’s words are on Sport Illustrated‘s website. It’s a great day, but it’s also one of those days that leads you to say, I can’t believe it took so long. Of course, we can believe it took so long, especially in a world and a country — the United States — where Chick-fil-A and Newt Gingrich dominate the discussion, and where gay men, women, and athletes of such orientation and either gender are still the persecuted and the embattled.
Yes, there appears to be more support and more understanding from society at large, but high-profile gay celebrities are still typecasted and gossiped about like our basement bars are a Grade 7 classroom. Actors like Rock Hudson and Anthony Perkins hid their sexual orientation for their entire careers, but because everybody still knew, they received more snide and tongue-in-cheek vitriole than they would have had they come out. (Of course, they probably received more money and more work because, as often as we say we’re okay with it, there are far too many of us who aren’t and can’t be, and that’s a shame that can only begin to be cured when everything is in the open.)
Not a lot has changed. Tell me the first thing you think of when you hear names like Elton John, Freddie Mercury, or Liberace.
We still don’t know how the athletic world will respond, although we’ve had previews. Last year, almost everybody jumped into the gay marriage debate, because it was the first time it really became a vital and important political platform.
The NFL’s mouths were the busiest.
You had the medieval beliefs of San Francisco’s Chris Culliver and Seattle’s Chris Clemons coming down on the other side.
“I don’t do the gay guys, man,” said Culliver. “I don’t do that. Got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff…Can’t be…in the locker room, nah. You’ve gotta come out 10 years later after that.”
Clemons’s comments were more knee-jerk, but nevertheless as offensive.
“Who on God’s earth is this person saying he’s coming out of the closet in the NFL? I’m not against anyone but I think it’s a selfish act.”
Of course, you also had the support of those like Minnesota’s Chris Kluwe and Baltimore’s Brandon Ayanbadejo.
“Why do you speak out in support of the gay community?” Kluwe asked himself at the beginning of his Huffington Post column Monday morning. “I’ve been asked this question multiple times, at multiple events, and every time I give the same answer: Because it’s the right thing to do. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.”
Earlier this April, Ayanbadejo spoke about the possibility that any of his teammates or opponents would or could come out.
“I think it will happen sooner than you think… We’re in talks with a handful of players who are considering it. There are up to four players being talked to right now and they’re trying to be organized so they can come out on the same day together. It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy. It would be a monumental day if a handful or a few guys come out.”
So, the evolution continues, and we all have to applaud Jason Collins, because he is right now that one guy Ayanbadejo was talking about, although their sport’s not the same.
But, after we applaud him, we also have to stand behind him, because nobody knew who Jason Collins was before today and this is only the start of an either very difficult or very great time for him.
We also have to congratulate Sports Illustrated for letting Collins write the article himself, and for letting him provide that coverage on his own terms (I assume). It’s long, it’s detailed, and it’s revealing.
“I didn’t come out to my brother until last summer,” he says at the bottom of the Internet’s page one. “His reaction to my breakfast revelation was radically different from Aunt Teri’s. He was downstairs astounded. He never suspected. So much for twin telepathy. But by dinner that night, he was full of brotherly love. For the first time in our lives, he wanted to step in and protect me.”
It’s time for basketball to do the same.