Quantcast

«

»

May 02 2013

Jason Collins Steps Out of the Closet

Jason Collins, a backup center for the Washington Wizards, has become the first active male player in a major sport in the United States to come out of the closet as a gay man. He did so in an article in Sports Illustrated, which begins simply enough:

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…

The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. “I’ve known you were gay for years,” she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you’re in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know — I baked for 33 years.

When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.

I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 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.”

Good for him. And good for society, too. These things matter and they matter a lot. I truly believe that Ellen Degeneres coming out of the closet was hugely important in pushing society to accept gay people as “normal.” Ellen is likable and is adored by many, especially by the kind of middle-class, suburban folks who were most likely to harbor a soft bigotry that easily faded away once they realized that they do know gay people and they like them and view them as similar and familiar.

I think Collins can do the same thing in sports, and I have no doubt that his example will lead others to do the same. It’s never easy being the first one through the door, but once they open it others are sure to follow. There are earlier reports that four NFL players are considering coming out together and very publicly. I think that just became more likely.

Also encouraging is the public reaction of other athletes so far. Kobe Bryant tweeted this:

Kobe was fined by the NBA a couple years ago for calling another player a faggot during a game and, since then, he really seems to have understood why he was wrong. He has repeatedly come out in favor of equality since then and I really think it’s sincere. David Stern, the NBA commissioner, said:

“As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family. Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.”

The NBA Players Association said:

“As Jason wrote, pro basketball is a family, and he has and always will be our brother. The NBPA is dedicated to fighting for the best interests of and uniting all players regardless of race, creed, color, age, national origin, or sexual orientation. Today is another example that we are intent on continuing that work.

“We congratulate Jason for having the courage to ‘raise his hand,’ as he wrote in his story, and start the conversation.”

The White House also expressed support and President Obama even called Collins personally and former President Bill Clinton put out this statement:

“Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community,” he said in a statement. “It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities.

“For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason’s colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned.”

And there was a lot of other support as well:

Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld issued a statement on behalf of the team:

“We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation.”

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said in a statement that he was “extremely happy and proud” of Collins.

“He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite ‘team’ players I have ever coached. If you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘I am who I am, are whom we are, can be what I want to be, its not up to you, it’s just me being me,’ ” Rivers said.

Collins has an endorsement deal with Nike, which issued a statement of support.

“We admire Jason’s courage and are proud that he is a Nike athlete. Nike believes in a level playing field where an athlete’s sexual orientation is not a consideration,” it read.

This is a sign of how far we’ve already come as a society. That it’s happening in the world of sports, which is viewed as the epitome of masculinity, is both remarkable and welcome. Bravo, Jason Collins. You did a good thing.

28 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Worldtraveller

    This will be good to watch as more and more come out. It will be particularly telling when other sports start doing the same. The real telling case will be when a NASCAR driver comes out. Redneck heads all over the US will assplode.

  2. 2
    Kevin

    One of these days, this kind of announcement will be unnecessary. Because nobody will give one shit what someone else’s sexual orientation is (other than someone they’re involved with sexually, of course).

    Won’t that be a great day?

  3. 3
  4. 4
    slc1

    As I understand it, Collins is unsigned for next year. It remains to be seen if any team will sign him up, aside from the fact that he’s gay, because of his age (34) and limited value as a player (he was a backup center on the Wizards, not exactly a team loaded with talent).

  5. 5
    Abby Normal

    @Fastlane

    Evan Darling is an openly gay NASCAR driver. Or at least he was. As I recall his sponsorships dried up when his orientation got some media attention a couple years ago.

  6. 6
    tynk

    @Gretchen

    Basketball Player Brittney Griner Came Out Last Week, But Nobody Noticed

    That’s because she is a woman. Women playing sports that do not put us in skirts have been accused of being lesbians for many decades. For some it would be surprising if a female professional athlete came out as straight.

    Many times people have found out I am a lesbian and their response was “Wait, you don’t play softball.”

  7. 7
    Abby Normal

    Gretchen, don’t you know it would only be news if a WNBA player came out as straight?

  8. 8
    rickdesper

    Nor was Brittney Griner the first lesbian athlete to come out. Martina Navritalova came out decades ago, as did Billie Jean King. Megan Rapinoe and other players on the US soccer team have also done so more recently.

    The Jason Collins story is more newsworthy than the Griner story because of the gender difference. Male athletes are simply in a different culture than female athletes, and this culture has historically been far less tolerant of homosexuality.

  9. 9
    Pieter B, FCD

    I remember sitting waiting to get my hair cut and seeing one of the celebrity magazines whose cover proclaimed that they had an exclusive on photos of Ellen and Portia’s wedding. I said to myself “The war’s over. From here on it’s just mopping up.” That was 4 1/2 years ago.

  10. 10
    Rob F

    Was there as much attention when (say) Martina Navratilova or Angela James came out? They did it years ago, when it was more dangerous to be out, and furthermore, unlike Collins, were unquestionably stars in their sports.

  11. 11
    Ed Brayton

    Britney Griner coming out was ignored because that’s pretty mundane in women’s sports these days, which is actually kind of refreshing. She just said, “Yeah, I’m gay. I’ve never hidden it.” No one really cared. I hope that is soon the case for men’s sports as well.

  12. 12
    composer99

    I suspect the killing blow to a homophobic culture in professional men’s sports will be when an NFL player comes out.

  13. 13
    Gretchen

    I would also suggest that Britney Griner was ignored because when it comes to homosexuality, homophobes tend to all but forget that lesbians exist. And I’m kind of tired of hearing about how that’s a good thing, because it’s not like they don’t think lesbianism is wrong. They’re not more forgiving of women being– they just don’t give as much of a damn about women, period.

    You can be damn sure we’ll have a gay male president before we’ll have a lesbian president. Possibly before we even have a woman president.

  14. 14
    Gretchen

    *They’re not more forgiving of women being gay

  15. 15
    cptdoom

    The comparison to Ellen Degeneres is really apt, as is the discussion of lesbians in women’s sports. In both cases – show biz and women’s sports – the first people to come out made a big splash. Ellen was on the cover of Time, and of course the coming out episode of her show was widely watched. In the same way, both Billie Jean King, who was outed, and Martina Navritalova, who outed herself, were big media news. However, in show business now, actors coming out is basically no big deal – Matt Bomer of White Collar came out by thanking his husband when receiving an award; Jim Parsons of the Big Bang Theory come out in a line that was buried in a magazine article; Matt Dallas, who starred in an ABC Family show Kyle XY, simply came out by tweeting the news of his engagement and a picture of his (male) fiance. In the same way, women coming out in sports is ho-hum, because there have been so many. I look forward to the day when the same thing happening in men’s sports, particularly when we start to get out players in high school and college simply transitioning into the pros with no fanfare.

  16. 16
    Synfandel

    Gretchen, we have an openly lesbian Premier in the Province of Ontario.

  17. 17
    Ace of Sevens

    So which sports count as major?

  18. 18
    Reginald Selkirk

    LeRoy Butler says church shunned him after Jason Collins tweet

    According to Butler, not long after sending the following tweet: “Congrats to Jason Collins”, Butler got a call from a member of the church and was told the church would cancel his presentation unless he removed the tweet, apologized and asked for God’s forgiveness.

  19. 19
    timgueguen

    His twin brother Jarron is straight. Over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money Scott Eric Kaufman discusses how this fact might shape the narrative antigay commentators use when discussing Collins.
    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2013/04/why-the-collins-non-story-will-matter

  20. 20
    freemage

    Ace of Sevens: In the U.S.? I’d say Football, Basketball and Baseball are the top tier, with Hockey being the go-to alternative (remember, team sports, so golf doesn’t count). Soccer would pull up in fifth place for prominence.

    This ranking is, of course, justified with comprehensive statistics taken from the Department of Myass, and should be regarded with due assurance of accuracy.

  21. 21
    slc1

    Re: tmgueguen @ #19

    Apparently, Howard Kurtz, formerly of the Washington Post and now formerly of the Daily Beast, blotted his copybook by erroneously claiming that Collins neglected to inform his readers that he was, at one time, engaged to a woman. The Beast gave him the heave ho.

  22. 22
    Matt G

    People (men especially) are more focused on what makes a “real man” than anything similar for women. A man’s “manliness” is of greater concern than a woman’s “womanliness” (which apparently isn’t even a word as far as my iPad is concerned…).

  23. 23
    schmeer

    timgueguen,
    I didn’t see much discussion about how this might shape the conversation but I did see a lot of vile filth from that douchebag you linked to.

  24. 24
  25. 25
    timgueguen

    schemer, you might want to look at that post again. Unless of course I have somehow missed some signal that Kaufman supports those kind of ideas.

  26. 26
    whiskeyjack

    Have you heard of this?

    http://youcanplayproject.org/

  27. 27
    democommie

    “So which sports count as major?”

    The ones played in MurKKKa!

    Opening of a “Twilight Zone 2013″ episode, narrator, David Sedaris:

    “Imagine that you find yourself in an NBA locker room. You are showering when an out gay player walks into the locker room. Strangely you find that YOU have an erection!…”

    Seriously, if I had to assemble a list of “10 ways to know why you’re REALLY against knowing that men around you are gay”, fear that the bigot might find that he himself is gay would be near the top of said list.

  28. 28
    peterh

    @ #27,

    I find more often than not people hate most in others what they fear most in themselves.

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site