Monday, April 29, 2013

Finally! Coming Out in the NBA

Hallelujah! Finally, a current male professional athlete has come out! NBA player Jason Collins came in Sports Illustrated this week, writing:
"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."
Jason Collins (Photo from Sports Illustrated)
He was prompted in part by his former roommate at Stanford, Congressman Joe Kennedy, who told Collins he has just marched in Boston's 2012 Gay Pride parade as an ally to the LGBTQ community. It made Collins take stock of what he was missing out on by remaining closeted:
"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'."
This is huge on so many levels, and will have a ripple effect in college sports as well--college athletes look to professional athletes as role models. Collins is an active player in the NBA. He's male. He's black. And he's unapologetically gay. Culturally we have a hierarchy of gender with macho, hyper-hetero professional athletes at the top of the pyramid. We also have cultural equations where gay male=less masculine than hetero male, and that black males who are not stereotypically gay=straight.

Collins' coming out throws all of these deeply grooved assumptions out the window. It helps us as a society to understand that of COURSE we can have macho professional athletes who are gay, and we can have men who hate sports who are straight, and there are butchy, muscular straight women, just as there are hyper-feminine gold star lesbians (and everything else in between!).

So thank you Jason Collins for being brave in a sports world that has much to gain by being homophobic and keeping its players in the closet. (See former NBA player John Amaechi's book, "Man in the Middle" about just that.) There are so so many of us who applaud you!

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For more, check out ESPN's analysis, in which they interview openly gay sports journalist LZ Granderson on how and why things have shifted in the NBA, is here.

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