The lateness of the male pro leagues on this subject is striking; women athletes have been coming out for 30 years. One of the reasons Collins decided to make his announcement was that he wanted to declaw the outers, those who might force him out of the closet for prurience or their own purposes, as Billie Jean King was forced out in 1981. She returned to her hotel room one day to find messages covering the door, and knew in that instant she had been outed and her life wouldn’t be the same. In the space of 24 hours she lost every endorsement she had, an estimated $2 million worth, and never recovered financially.
It no longer costs an athlete millions to be gay, and they are no longer subject to blackmail, because the Billie Jean Kings, Martina Navratilovas, Sheryl Swoopes and Brittney Griners have taken the poison out of the issue with a steady drumbeat of grace and intelligence in public. This is the line that Collins now joins. He is an indispensable link in the chain, and in trying to put a finger on what, if anything, is heroic about his announcement, there it is. It lies in the simple unselfish recognition that somebody needed to move this issue for male athletes. Someone had to step forward so others could follow. “Openness may not completely disarm prejudice,” Collins writes, “but it’s a good place to start.”