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Jason Collins: The First Openly Gay, Active Professional Athlete in Major Sports

In Life, Life Lessons, Sports on April 29, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Jason Collins - Sports Illustrated

The featured NBA story in the headlines this morning was about Dwight Howard being ejected from what may have been his last game in a Los Angeles Laker uniform.  The Lakers were dominated by the San Antonio Spurs and unceremoniously eliminated in a four-game sweep.  This morning, the conversation was all about Howard’s lack of leadership and where he will play next year.  This afternoon, no one was talking about Howard anymore because something of actual significance happened in the NBA.  Jason Collins came out as the first openly gay, active professional athlete in the major sports.

I wish that Collins’ revelation wasn’t a major story, but it is because he is the first active professional athlete to stop living a lie, something that should have happened a long time ago.

I hope that more professional athletes will come forward now that one of their peers has been the first one to jump into the frigid waters of the proverbial pool.  It’s 2013, and the time has come to let people be who they are regardless of their profession.

Although Collins readily admits that he wishes that someone else had already blazed this trail, the world of professional sports couldn’t have found a more eloquent spokesman to open the door for others.  Pulling snippets from the “coming out” article that he wrote for Sports Illustrated would not do Collins justice.  It should be read in its entirety to understand where he is coming from (click here for full article).

I wish that I wasn’t pleasantly surprised to see so many NBA stars coming out to show their support and admiration for Collins, but I am.  I guess seeing so much intolerance in the world has made me something of a cynic when it comes to people accepting others for who they are.

I wish that I was surprised to see a fellow professional athlete question the life that Collins lives, but unfortunately, I am not, given the anti-gay statements that some NFL players have made recently.

It is ignorant to think that being gay is a choice that Collins has made.  If it was a choice, then why would he spend his entire life trying to fool the world into thinking that he was straight, his twin brother in particular who has played with him all the way through college and into the NBA?

No amount of logical reasoning will persuade those who are steadfast in their anti-gay beliefs, and that is a shame.  And even if most teammates, players and fans accept gay professional athletes with open arms, the unaccepting ones will undoubtedly shout their point of view from the rooftops and perpetuate unnecessary controversy for the foreseeable future.

Like Jackie Robinson, Collins will likely deal with his fair share of intolerance going forward, assuming that he signs another NBA contract.  As a deep bench player who is a 34-year old free agent, his opportunities may be limited for legitimate basketball reasons.  Hopefully, at least one team will give Collins a chance to show the world that an openly gay athlete can thrive in professional sports.

There have been rumors recently that some high profile, gay NFL players will be coming out this season.  In various interviews on ESPN today, former Dallas Cowboy, Darren Woodson, has stated that he is absolutely certain that he played with gay players during the Cowboys dynasty days of the 90’s.  Woodson, like many other professional athletes, was solely focused on winning games and competing for championships.  The sexual preference of his teammates never entered his mind.  And while he admits that there will always be some intolerant “knuckleheads” in any given locker room, he believes that any player who is dedicated to doing what is necessary to help his team win, will ultimately be embraced by his teammates.

Until today, gay athletes in professional sports had remained closeted due to a fear of the unknown.  Thanks to Jason Collins’ courageous decision to be the first openly gay, active professional athlete, others will be able to stop living a lie.

Hopefully, one day in the not-too-distant future, the NBA will honor Collins in the same manner that Major League Baseball honors Robinson, and have all NBA players wear the number 98 for one game during the regular season.  It would be a fitting tribute to honor the man who broke down the barrier that has lasted for far too long in professional sports.

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