Jason Collins’s religious critics need to practice what they preach

The Post’s LaVar Arrington and Mike Wise discuss Jason Collins’s coming out and whether other pro athletes will also come out. (Post Sports Live)
Mike Wise
Columnist April 30, 2013

With Jason Collins clearing one of big-time team sports’ last barriers to equality, it’s time to extend an olive branch to some of the other people who also came out Monday: Let’s give it up for the heterosexual religious zealots, some of whom let us know their true, authentic selves.

It takes a lot of Old Testament moral certainty to have such strong conviction against a 7-foot NBA journeyman’s sexuality, especially after Collins had the guts to become the first active male athlete in a major team sport to say he’s gay — which, by the way, is so universally accepted it took just 38 years since a former Redskin named Dave Kopay became the first gay player to come out after he was retired.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

While many voiced support for (or at least tolerance of) Collins in the aftermath, some used his historic announcement to call homosexuality a sin and an open rebellion toward God and otherwise trumpeted their bigotry under the guise of “religious beliefs.” To them, we say this: We don’t think you will burn in the eternal hellfire of damnation just because you think gay people will. We know that God loves you, too, and we await your healing and your delayed entry into the 21st century.

It’s true that we choose our religion and can decide how to treat others in ways that no one chooses his or her sexual orientation (because, really, given the environments in most locker rooms, what athlete would choose to be gay?) And because we’re free to make those choices, all people are entitled to their own interpretations of the Book of Leviticus. They’ll all be allowed to watch games like any paying customer. If some choose to wear their straightness on their sleeves by participating in the mixed-sex-only KISSCam, it won’t change our feelings: We will still embrace them — but not, like, long enough to make anyone uncomfortable.

We don’t all have to see the world from the same perspective; we don’t even have to interpret religious writings the same way. But let’s at least be consistent: If the outrage at Collins is all about religion, where was the contempt for Shawn Kemp’s and Antonio Cromartie’s serial fathering? Really, why is an openly gay athlete evoking such fervor while a womanizing athlete is just one of the fellas?

I don’t really feel like parsing Biblical translations, but anyone who wants to go that route to decry homosexuality surely must concede that the sports world violates the Ten Commandments daily:

1. I am the Lord, your God. (Pick any omnipotent commissioner during a lockout.)

2. Thou shall bring no false idols before me. (JaMarcus Russell, Michelle Wie, Korleone Young — lately, Dwight Howard.)

3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. (Any coach in America, six times a quarter.)

4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. (Yep, that Bristol, Conn., studio was a ghost town during the Christmas Day quadruple-header, wasn’t it?)

5. Honor thy father and thy mother. (Rumeal Robinson.)

6. Thou shall not kill/murder. (Rae Carruth, allegedly Javaris Crittenton.).

7. Thou shall not commit adultery. (Tiger, Michael, Kobe . . . insert your favorite athlete here.)

8. Thou shall not steal. (Kwame Brown, who has yet to be convicted by the teams that employed him)

9. Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (well, unless you’re a college coach — then it’s just during non-contact periods with recruits.)

10. Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s wife (unless she winds up single on “NBA Wives” — holla!)

Enough. Collins’s announcement was obviously unsettling for some, even those who scrambled to proclaim their “gay friends” or to preach “tolerance.” The sexual orientation of others isn’t something to be “tolerated” any more than their ethnic heritage is.

Collins being gay is about him, not anyone else. By sharing his sexual identity publicly, he’s stating who he is, not what anyone else should be. Doing so as a male athlete in our current sports culture showed a conviction similar to Jackie Robinson, Curt Flood, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe — athletes who are now celebrated, not tolerated.

Those who took this opportunity to call Collins a sinner are using someone else’s personal revelation to attack and play God. Collins did not come out to express his contempt for anyone else’s beliefs. So why express contempt for his?

No doubt some will have trouble cheering for gay athletes. But these folks need to look at it this way: They most likely already have unknowingly cheered for them, and some may have contributed to some of their greatest memories at a ballpark or an ice rink.

The good news is, we will pray for the misguided souls in this whole episode. We have to have faith that they can get better.

For previous Mike Wise columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.

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