This past week, professional basketball player Jason Collins announced to the world that he is gay. He told Sports Illustrated, “No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly.”
This past week, professional basketball player Jason Collins announced to the world that he is gay.
He told Sports Illustrated, “No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly.”
Collins became the first and only active professional male athlete in the U.S. to openly admit that he is gay.
I applaud his openness and bravery. I’m no sports journalist and have never been “behind the scenes,” but I can imagine that a professional basketball, football, baseball or hockey team’s locker room is not the most friendly environment for homosexuals, or the most conducive for coming out.
Think about the stereotypical professional athlete. What comes to my mind is an overly arrogant, egotistical, narcissistic guy overflowing with testosterone and unchecked machismo.
Additionally, locker rooms are environments that tend to be very homophobic—the type of place where terms like “gay” and “faggot” are used as emasculating insults. Of all possible work environments, professional sports may be one of the most difficult in which to be openly gay.
It’s difficult to come out under any circumstances, but what Collins did by coming out in such a potentially homophobic environment is a true demonstration of courage. Trailblazers are often marked by this characteristic.
I’m unsure if this will be a watershed moment, to be followed by every gay athlete coming out, but Collins set a precedence. He has proven that you can come out and be welcomed, as many in the sporting world (as well as President Barack Obama) have done for Collins.
But it’s the reaction of the masses that causes reservations. Like the professional athletes they worship, I don’t normally think of sports fans as the most progressive of people. Collins will receive hate mail, death threats and unpardonable insults in one form or another. Twitter bullies have probably already done their best.
Collins likely knew this before making his announcement. Fortunately, a man big enough to come out and shed the veneer that made him fit in but feel unfulfilled won’t be too disconcerted by the little people in the world who will ignorantly hate.
I want to go back to Collins’ original quote. While the testosterone-filled locker rooms of professional sports may create this kind of discomfort for a gay individual, this isn’t the only situation in which coming out is terrifying. The quality of life Collins experienced before his groundbreaking announcement is one that we shouldn’t condemn anyone to. Progress has been made, but there’s still work to be done. No one should live a life defined by fear and insecurity.
There’ll always be Bible-wavers and homophobes, but our goal as a society should be to allow everyone to exist comfortably in his or her own skin. We need to create environments in which people can simply be true to themselves, and we need to accept these individuals for who they are.
We like to think of our nation as a melting pot. We were a country founded by immigrants and we thrived because of tolerance—even if it was at times reluctant tolerance.
The strength of a community, even one as small as Portland State, benefits from diversity. If we can create an environment in which no one is forced to conceal his or her true self and can be openly expressive, everyone will benefit. While PSU has done an excellent job of creating a community of tolerance, our nation as a whole has a lot of work to do.
America might not be quite ready for openly gay professional athletes. However, because of Jason Collins’ actions, someday soon we will be—and it will make life less difficult for everyone (including the more-than-a-few pro athletes I suspect are currently in the closet).
But we shouldn’t focus on whether we’re ready; we should simply get ready and prepare a welcoming environment.