Thursday, May 2, 2013

34, Black, and Gay



Which one is defining him?

Last Monday, NBA free agent Jason Collins came out in a first person essay in Sports Illustrated online which began “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center.  I’m black.  And I’m gay.”  It was a gutsy move as it made the 7’ ex-Washington Wizards center the first openly gay male athlete who is still active in a major American team sport.

Reactions to His Announcement

The reaction to Jason’s big news was mostly positive.  President Barack Obama contacted Collins to say “I think for a lot of young people out there who are gay or lesbian and struggling with these issues to see a role model like that who is unafraid is a great thing.”  Stanford University classmate Chelsea Clinton tweeted him congratulations.  Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker also tweeted their support.  Commissioner David Stern said the League was proud that Collins has “assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.” Collins himself confessed that a “huge weight has been lifted” from his shoulders after becoming the first openly gay major pro athlete and he is waiting for someone else to “raise their hand” to follow his lead.

All were not happy with Collins’s announcement, however.  ESPN basketball reporter Chris Broussard stated on Monday that Collins’s coming out “amounted to walking in an open rebellion to God.”  Right Wing Watch Bryan Fischer thinks Collins should have stayed in the closet because he’ll be “eyeballing” team members in the locker room.  Westboro Baptist Church, known for picketing funerals, blaming weather disasters on the GLBTQ population, will surely find in Collins a scapegoat for their extreme beliefs. Collins has received death threat tweets on Twitter.

A Litmus Test

Collins, who has struggled with his sexual orientation, may be seen as a litmus test for younger GLBTQ athletes to follow his lead. But this in itself troubles sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer who thinks his public announcement may put pressure on other athletes to come out. Should athletes, movie stars, celebrities come out so others will, and normalize homosexuality so it won’t be so feared in America? So the workplace, marriage, health, and residential laws are the same as for heterosexuals?
For now, Collins’s sexual orientation will define him.  It shouldn’t.  When will the discussion no longer be necessary?