Jason Collins and accepting who you are (and dealing with it)

Until yesterday, I had never heard of Jason Collins. Didn’t know he played basketball or that he played in the NBA. That is not necessarily a good or bad thing, it is just a fact. Didn’t know he existed at all, or that he was black. Or gay. And that’s probably a good thing.

Even if I did know who Jason Collins was, followed his career from time he was at Stanford through his 13-year career as a center in the NBA, it wouldn’t matter. Knew that he played in two NBA finals with the then-New Jersey Nets and that he signed a $25 million contract in 2004, it wouldn’t matter. Or, that since being traded in 2008, he’s become a vagabond backup, the 11th or 12th man on the bench. It wouldn’t matter.

To be fair, Collins isn’t the only gay athlete in the four “major” sports in America. Several have acknowledged it after the fact, but none during his career. As others have pointed out, there are more. It should also be noted that he is an unemployed NBA reserve center who says he wants to continue to play. As he should, as is his right. But we shall see.

The response has mostly been positive, but, as Evan Weiner on Examiner.com pointed out, how would it play in Oklahoma? (I can almost hear Louis Gossett, Jr.’s Sgt. Foley in “An Officer and a Gentleman” – Only two things come from Oklahoma, boy. Steer’s and Queer’s. I don’t see no horns on you boy, so you must be a queer.”)

Collins, he says, “is no longer a “normal” player which is a sad statement on the mentality of people who shouldn’t care about these things. People like ESPN’s Chris Broussard who disqualified himself as a neutral observer reporting on basketball by blasting Collins’s announcement because as a Christian, Broussard doesn’t agree with homosexuality.

What ESPN does with Broussard is up to the “family friendly” Walt Disney Company, an organization that may not be as “family friendly” as it might appear. But Broussard is strictly a minor player and a lost voice in the media carnival barkers wilderness. The real test for just how enlightened the NBA think it is would be tested if Jason Collins had his contract assigned to the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball franchise. Since Collins will be a free agent, he will not be traded to Oklahoma City, but would Oklahoma City be interested in Collins who can deal with any of the 30 NBA teams?

“That,” Weiner concludes “might be the ultimate test in the embracement of Collins.” [1]

Two of OKC’s owners, Tom Ward and Aubrey McClendon, have contributed to anti-gay groups and in 2007 were fined for expressing their desire to move the team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, but not for their political stances, tells a lot about what the NBA deems appropriate or not.

Earlier this year, Robbie Rogers, a soccer player who spent time in Major League Soccer and a couple stints on the US National Team, came out as gay. And retired. At 26 and in the prime of his career. Brittney Griner, the All-American basketball player from Baylor, acknowledged her sexuality earlier this year. The WNBA has had many lesbian players, so Griner’s career with the Phoenix Mercury should be a bit more smooth than that of Collins.

I sincerely doubt very much that Collins will ever play in the NBA again. As I have noted, he is an unemployed NBA player right now at the end of his 13-year career. And of the four “major” sports leagues, it ranks about a 3.5 on my scale. That the Pistons are a joke at the moment probably plays into that, but until the league addresses it’s competitive imbalance with more than just lip service, the league will continue to lose relevancy.

To be sure, there will be a racial aspect of this, also. That Collins is black and the black community as a whole looks at homosexuality as shameful and on the “down low”, is certainly going to raise it’s head.

There is also the fact that we allowed a whole generation of gay men to die out of fear and loathing is a stain that can never be washed out of our past. That people who were HIV-positive or had AIDS were looked upon with scorn and rejected, even after Rock Hudson and Magic Johnson.

Charles Pierce, perhaps the best sports/political writer since Hunter S. Thompson, wrote in Grantland.com today, ” Let us be humane and not make of him the vehicle of our hopes for a better world. Let us be, for lack of a better word, Christian enough not to make out of Collins’s undeniably brave decision to announce that he is gay the vessel into which we pour enough of our own precious tolerance to admire ourselves in its reflection. Let’s not make him more of a symbol than he wants to be.” [2]

That is the key right there. Do not make this out to be some sort of Jackie Robinson moment or something that it’s not. Robinson became the first black ballplayer not because he was the best, but because Branch Rickey saw character in him. Collins’ announcement shows a different kind of character, one that had reached a breaking point and he said “Screw this, I’m not going to pretend to be someone or something I’m not anymore.”

Most of us know someone or are related to someone who’s gay. I have a cousin who is and a step-cousin also. I know teammates on the US Paralympic Team who are gay and Lesbian. It doesn’t matter. What matters is being who you are and being comfortable with it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

1) http://www.examiner.com/article/jason-collins-and-sports-brave-new-world?fb_comment_id=fbc_563584957019971_6236647_563585350353265#f3a6ddfbc

2) http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9226543/jason-collins-comes-out

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One Response to “Jason Collins and accepting who you are (and dealing with it)”

  1. Sharon Says:

    “Charles Pierce, perhaps the best sports/political writer since Hunter S. Thompson…”

    I second the emotion.

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