by Frederick Sparks
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
In case you hadn’t heard, NBA journeyman center Jason Collins has declared to the world that he is a gay man. Collins entered the NBA twelve years ago, along with his twin Jarron, after the two played collegiate basketball at Stanford. He is being hailed as the first out active male athlete in a major professional team sport in the U.S. (though some may argue that late baseball player Glenn Burke was the first).
Collins says he was inspired to come out after his former college roommate, current Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy, marched in a Boston gay pride parade:
I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I’d been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, “Me, too.”
The reaction across the twitter verse and blogsphere, with some exceptions, has been positive, with Kobe Bryant and other current and former players and coaches offering support. ESPN analyst Chris Broussard, apparently troubled by Collins’ reference to his Christian upbringing and respect for Jesus Christ and how that fits into a viewpoint of tolerance and acceptance, stated (on a sports show) that Jason couldn’t be a Christian and an “active” homosexual at the same time. Also, some seem to believe that the fact that Jason’s twin Jarron is not gay means that homosexuality is a choice.
Collins is a free agent (meaning not under contract with any team), having done stints this season with both the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. Now the question moves to whether his coming out will affect the decision making of team owners who would otherwise be interested in adding Collins to their rosters. Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who works for an openly gay team President, felt the need to point out that he is a Christian man with a sense of right and wrong before saying that Collins would be welcome on his team “if he had game. If he could help this team”.
Beyond the reaction of people in the sports world, what intrigues (and annoys) me is the reaction of commentators who wonder why this is a big deal and throw out inane chestnuts about how straight people don’t announce that they are straight. This is the blind spot of social privilege..not recognize that straight people quite often announce their sexuality in many ways (wearing wedding rings, referring to wives and husbands) that go unnoticed because it is the expected norm. It also smacks of the sentiment that the problem is not with bias, but with discussing bias, and with discussing issues of identity that are related to bias.