Washington Wizards center Jason Collins’ recent admission that he is gay sent a shockwave through the world of professional sports. But unlike the scourge such a declaration would have brought in the past, Collins has enjoyed widespread support from nearly ever corner of the sports world- and the nation. President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Kobe Bryant, and many of his NBA contemporaries have lauded his courage.
What struck me is that not long ago, such a confession might have ended an athlete’s career. In the 1990’s, for instance, Green Bay Packer
star lineman Reggie White famously appeared in a national campaign to persuade gays and lesbians that they could essentially, “pray the gay away.” Now, that kind of thinking is slowly waning as the country - and even the black sports community- has migrated away from the marginalization of the gay community.
The dichotomy today is that homophobia itself is now being rebuked and chastised by sports fans and the media alike. Intolerance and long-held personal prejudices have given way to understanding and empathy.
Take, for instance, the two-day flap over the comments ESPN analyst Chris Broussard who sparred with his openly gay colleague LZ Granderson on Monday on national television about Collins’ announcement. Broussard insisted that “gay people can’t be Christians and called homosexuality an open rebellion against God.” ESPN quickly issued a statement saying that it regretted the distraction caused by Broussard’s comments.
Broussard's statements represents a fading ideology among many Americans. Based largely on religious dogma, he appears to be holding himself and his personal behavior up as some sort of model to be emulated.
While many people took to Twitter and Facebook to publicly support Broussard, his viewpoint is meeting resistance, even in the athletic community.
Last month, when Magic Johnson expressed pride, joy, and love for his gay son, EJ, it was the antithesis of the hatred of America’s past. Just imagine a black father who would communicate freely and love his child so unconditionally; what that could do for a child’s self-image?
Jason Collins is a trailblazer in that same mode. His pronouncement can potentially save lives—and this is not an overstatement.
A study published by the Journal of Pediatrics tells us that gay teens are five times more likely to attempt suicide. Kids are still rejected by their families, targeted by bigots and harassed by vigilantes just because they decide to tell the truth about their sexuality.
But times are changing.
In short order, the country has performed a complete about face in the acceptance of the gay community—the whimsical call of “come out, come out wherever you are,” made popular during childhood games of hide and seek, have circuitously taken on a more profound meaning as the taboo of being gay in the world of professional sports has become not only acceptable, but praised as bold and principled.
On the heels of the recently released biopic “42” detailing the plight of baseball great Jackie Robinson as the first African American to play major league baseball, a fresh new generation of Americans are being introduced to what it truly means to be a pioneer.
That’s exactly what Collins has become; and it is as if our collective national- and sports industry- temperament has changed over night.
“No one wants to live in fear,” Collins reportedly said. “I've always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I didn't sleep well. I never have. But each time I told another person, I felt stronger and slept a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I felt terribly alone and isolated.”
Jason Collin’s unassailable determination, integrity, and strength will invariably inspire a sense of pride in children all over the world. One of the last bastions of discrimination has been challenged and overcome--and America continues along the path of fulfilling its creed that all men are created equal.