Fear of the unknown. It’s something I’d like to believe that most human beings share. It’s why some of us were afraid of the dark at an early age. That primal fear that comes with being unable to understand or control your surroundings is very basic, and it’s at the heart and soul of resistance to change.
Perhaps that’s the reason, among others, why it’s taken until now for someone like NBA center Jason Collins, an active athlete in a major American sport, to publicly come out as gay. Both the player and the public aren’t sure what happens next. Former NBA player John Amaechi came out in 2007, but it was three years after his playing career had ended. He did not have to enter a locker room with teammates the next day. Amaechi did not have to see how it would affect his career.
Whether Collins will get a chance to see how his announcement changes his experience in the NBA remains to be seen, since the veteran journeyman is now a free agent. Still, he may get that chance, as an anonymous survey of 14 NBA teams conducted by ESPN’s Marc Stein revealed that six expect Collins in the league next year. The other eight cited overwhelmingly that his age, not sexual orientation, would be the primary reason they believed he wouldn’t play a 13th season.
But seriously, for years players and others have said they’ve known of gay teammates. Why is it now, in 2013, that the glass finally shattered?
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction and it’s the opposite reaction that men like Amaechi and Collins fear, the part that can’t be anticipated. Being LGBTQ labels you a minority in a time and age where the question of sexuality is more polarizing than ever. The concern becomes how the majority, the people themselves who don’t identify as a member of your community, treat and handle you once you reveal you’re different. How do you come out when you know it will forever change your life and the way that others perceive you?
Those are the questions that need to be answered and that’s the reason why we need to embrace Collins’ decision. Perhaps if Collins is widely accepted by his teammates and has a positive experience, it will help other athletes feel comfortable with coming out as well. It can also serve as an inspiration for others. Like Collins said in his article in Sports Illustrated, nobody wants to be the kid in class who raises his hand and says he’s different. But when someone sees a figure publicly embrace that difference, others may find the same strength to do so as well.
I’m only 22. But already, throughout my life, certain values and beliefs I hold have changed so many times I’m starting to lose count. Don’t get me wrong; I still hold viewpoints that have remained unaffected during my lifetime. But I believe that challenging beliefs by immersing myself and actively examining different ones from my own help me either modify or solidify previously held notions. And that’s why I believe an active and open discussion about a topic like Collins’ announcement, no matter what people believe, needs to occur.
I believe that we shouldn’t define a person by something like sexual orientation, just like we don’t want to be defined by our race or gender. Am I a straight, white male? Yes. Does that drastically shape my identity? You bet it does. But it doesn’t define entirely who I am. I’d rather think my personality, morals, work and ethics make me who I am rather than the categories I was born with.
Collins doesn’t want his life to be defined just as a gay man. He’s had a long career playing professional basketball and would rather be known as a caring teammate and hard worker than the first openly gay athlete. It will be a hard association for Collins to shake, but he also shouldn’t run from it. He should take pride in having the strength to do something no one else has before in his situation. He should find joy in knowing that his announcement will have a larger impact than he can even fathom.
So kudos to you, Jason Collins. Kudos for being the first active major American sport athlete to come out as gay. Kudos for doing what so many before you were afraid to do while they were still actively pursuing their athletic career. And finally, kudos for bringing the long-standing issue of being LGBTQ in the United States back to the spotlight for discussion in both the public and private spheres.
Some people will embrace the news, others will hate it and some will stand indifferent. But one thing is for certain: This represents a significant moment in the history of both sports and the LGBTQ community.
Nick is the Badger Herald sports editor and a senior majoring in English and history. What impact do you think Collins’ announcement will have? Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.