Until today, I had never heard of Jason Collins.
But now I’m a fan. If not of the NBA, certainly of Mr. Collins.
Just last week, I blogged about the difficulty in being out where I work. I reasoned that the public scrutiny would be too much. I am no Jason Collins. I do not have my story plastered in Sports Illustrated. I have not set the internet abuzz. I do not have to show up on court and in the locker room where homophobic taunts and “jokes” are perpetuated as long as microphones are turned off. Coming out in men’s sport takes raw guts.
I first read that Mr. Collins came out as gay in an Entertainment Weekly article (reporting on the SI article—no surprise, I do not regularly check the SI website). I scrolled down to the comments section to see what kind of negativity the usual post-ers could stir up. (Read any EW article. There is always someone who craves the negative attention. The predictable result is that other post-ers try to reason with (or putdown) Negative Neil and that tangent overshadows anything in the main article. I say this because inflammatory internet comments are the norm. If the article were about a little girl selling lemonade to pay the vet bill for her sick puppy, there would still be vile.)
Still, the negative comments about a man coming out add to a lifetime of homophobic comments and behavior that LGBT individuals have had to endure.
When I arrived home, I had the opportunity to read the full article at si.com. As anyone who lives a prolonged life in the closet, Mr. Collins has clearly put great thought into the coming out process and what it means to him personally, to his family and to his career. He knows how to get our attention, opening with three simple sentences:
“I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.”
By coming out, Jason Collins establishes another “first” in the pursuit of equality, acceptance and understanding for the LGBT “community”. There is already debate over what precisely the “first” is since Collins is a free agent and his current NBA season is over. There isn’t any need to quibble. Until today, the code has been that gay basketball players with aspirations of playing in the NBA now and/or next season do not come out. Why risk the repercussions? Why expose your personal life? Why not leave it to someone else? In 2046.
Mr. Collins gives a simple explanation: “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.”
Those of us who have spent prolonged periods of time holed up in the closet know why he raised his hand when others haven’t. We know how exhausting it can be to censor our comments and actions. We know how infuriating it can be to hear our friends and colleagues make homophobic slurs about others while in our presence. We know how incomplete and dishonest a life of secrecy can be.
Nothing I write here is new and I am certain others have had more time today to express things more powerfully. I just want to acknowledge Mr. Collins and note that, whatever exactly this first is, it is a big deal.
It took courage for Jason Collins to come out. It will require more courage for him to be the new target of hate from the good Christians who damn him to hell. I thank him for providing more inspiration to myself and to other gay boys and men who struggle with leading honest, open lives.
Congratulations, Jason Collins. With no one else in men’s basketball to share this spotlight, you are both a beacon and a target. I hope teammates and other professional athletes will come forward in the days and weeks ahead, if not to join the Out Wagon, then to show support for a thoughtful man with a passion for sport.