This week Jason Collins announced to his team and to the world that he is gay. He is a 12-year NBA veteran playing this past year for major teams such as the Wizards and the Celtics. He is well known and well liked and has reached a high level of success in the world of professional sports. He is also now a free agent with a great deal to offer a team.
This may not seem like a big deal to some but it is in fact a very big deal. Certainly there are many gay athletes playing professional sports but none of them has ever come out during their active career. Many have come out post-career and some never at all. The sports world has not traditionally been the most welcoming place for differences. It is by design competitive and by habit judgmental. Nevertheless, his teammates and other NBA players met Collins’ announcement with support and acceptance.
Younger generations are thankfully more tolerant of differences than older ones, according to studies, and most major league sports are filled with younger players, so this is the good news. There seems to be a general buzz among athletes that as long as a player can contribute something valuable to the team then no one is concerned with what he is doing in his private life. There are sure to be some holdouts because bigotry crosses all cultures and generations, but the tides are definitely changing. I suspect that the courage Collins has shown will inspire others to feel free to be themselves. For that he should be commended.
It is not easy to be an agent for change particularly when you face the possibility of harsh criticism and in the extreme exclusion, but as Jason himself said, someone has to be that 1st person. Let’s hope that the goodwill he has received so far continues and that the mark that the small splash his announcement has made will send ripples throughout the sports world and society in general.
In an article for Sports Illustrated, that will be released on May 6th, Jason wrote the following eloquent words:
I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay. I 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. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand…
Now I’m a free agent, literally and figuratively. I’ve reached that enviable state in life in which I can pretty much do what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.
Bravo Jason Collins for helping to pave the way for others.
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