Beyond sharing a last name, Jason Collins and I could not have less in common. He’s a seven-foot tall African-American professional basketball player and I weigh 130 pounds soaking wet, regularly refer to any iteration of team sports as “sportsball” and don’t watch, follow or have any interest in any of them. However, today, I found myself tearing up as I read his articulate, eloquent and deeply honest coming out story.
Make no mistake, despite our enormous differences, Jason Collins is now a hero to me. There are those who claim it’s not a big deal. They are wrong. Years from now, in the list of important gay people, activists and coming out stories, Jason Collins’ name will be added to the list with the likes of Harvey Milk, Ellen, Martina Navratilova, RuPaul, Barney Frank and so many more. Even if he never does anything else on behalf of the LGBT community. I do not mean to diminish any other individuals and their contributions, we are fortunate to now have more examples than a single list can hold, I chose these few because they each made the choice to be brave when they did not have to. I chose them because being first will always be the most difficult, and they chose, as Jason Collins did, to raise their hands.
The world of professional sports is the last bastion of the epitome of traditional masculinity in American culture. It is the home of many versions of the perceived ideal man. Athletic, aggressive, alpha-male masculinity honed to perfection. It’s also the arena that many developing LGBT youth, particularly males, fear the most. It is one of the most dangerous places to be seen as different and one of the easiest places to be ridiculed. To not be picked for the team. To not be good at sports. It certainly was for me. This is another step proving, with a bona fide flesh and blood example, that we are equal in every way. I may be terrible at sportsball personally, but some of us are among the best in the world.
Today there are out gay high school, college and even lower-level professional players in ever-growing numbers. The step Jason Collins made today begins paving the road for their future success in this historically-closed arena a little easier. It is a step closer to the idea that all that matters is how good you are. None of them will have to be first, and all of them now have a rather perfect example to follow and be inspired by.
Jason Collins will always be a hero for being first. It could have been anyone, it could have been any time, but it was him and it was today. The LGBT community is fortunate so far beyond the simple fact that it happened because of who Jason Collins is. These things should not matter, but pretending does not make it so. That he is a successful veteran matters, that he is currently active in his sport matters, that he is also African-American matters, that he is articulate matters, that he is attractive matters. By simply being the rest of who he is, Mr. Collins has neutralized many objections and not simply cracked the door but thrown it wide open.
There has been much discussion of a professional athlete coming out of late, and I thought positively about it knowing it would be beneficial to the community. I did not realize until it happened how much the acceptance of one of our community by the male professional athletic world would impact my own history with the sportsball world. I can only imagine the inspiration it is to other LGBT athletes, from high school through other currently active professionals.
Thank you Mr. Collins. Each of us gets to choose when and how we tell our story, until the day when “coming out” is no longer a thing. Thank you for telling yours like this, thank you for telling it now and thank you for raising your hand. If I were taller, well, a lot taller, I’d give you a high-five. And I’d probably miss.