Jason Collins is the Perfect Pioneer for Gay Professional Athletes

It finally happened. The story that everyone and their mother wanted the chance to break was broken by Franz Liz of Sports Illustrated. With one simple tweet, the landscape of professional sports may have been shifted on Monday, and it’s something so worth celebrating.

Everything about the way Jason Collins opened himself up to the world was perfect. Perfect because it was on his terms. Perfect because he’s the well-educated, well-spoken, and well-positioned pioneer that the closed community of gay athletes needed to break through the barrier and set themselves free of the chains that are holding them back. Perfect because he finally came to terms that he had to be the one to “raise his hand” first.

Collins talks of the sleepless nights in his article that will run in this week’s Sports Illustrated magazine, and how with each person he finally tells the truth to about his sexuality, the better those nights get.

The Stanford-educated basketballer so eloquently spoke on the struggles he went through over the past 33 years of his life, why now was the right time for him to open up about his life (despite not wanting to be the first), and the concerns he had in doing so. But also, he dispels any preconceived notions about the lack-of-toughness of a gay athlete, describes how—despite his attempts at living a “normal” life—he was given no choice when it came to his sexual orientation, and even took some humorous jabs at himself and those who support him throughout the piece.

Please find the time to read every word carefully and educate yourself on this man and his story, because it’s incredible. For those who need (or prefer) the cliff notes version, let’s walk through this historic article.

Collins didn’t want to be the first openly gay athlete but accepted the role and has embraced it.

I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. 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.

Why now?

I started thinking about this in 2011 during the NBA player lockout. I’m a creature of routine. When the regular season ends I immediately dedicate myself to getting game ready for the opener of the next campaign in the fall. But the lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want. With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided.

On coming out to his twin brother, Jaron Collins, a former-NBAer.

I didn’t come out to my brother until last summer. … He was downright astounded. He never suspected. So much for twin telepathy. But by dinner that night, he was full of brotherly love. For the first time in our lives, he wanted to step in and protect me.

Collins may be the last person many teammates expected was gay.

On the court I graciously accept one label sometimes bestowed on me: “the pro’s pro.” I got that handle because of my fearlessness and my commitment to my teammates. I take charges and I foul. …

I’m not afraid to take on any opponent. I love playing against the best. Though Shaquille O’Neal is a Hall of Famer, I never shirked from the challenge of trying to frustrate the heck out of him. (Note to Shaq: My flopping has nothing to do with being gay.) …

I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I’ve always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn’t make you soft? Who knows? That’s something for a psychologist to unravel. My motivations, like my contributions, don’t show up in box scores, and frankly I don’t care about stats. Winning is what counts. I want to be evaluated as a team player.

On the double life he’s lived, and how he hopes to be treated moving forward.

By its nature, my double life has kept me from getting close to any of my teammates. Early in my career I worked hard at acting straight, but as I got more comfortable in my straight mask it required less effort. In recent days, though, little has separated “mask on, mask off.” Personally, I don’t like to dwell in someone else’s private life, and I hope players and coaches show me the same respect. When I’m with my team I’m all about working hard and winning games. A good teammate supports you no matter what.

The summary that simply needs to be read, sans explanation.

Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start. It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road. Former players like Tim Hardaway, who said “I hate gay people” (and then became a supporter of gay rights), fuel homophobia. Tim is an adult. He’s entitled to his opinion. God bless America. Still, if I’m up against an intolerant player, I’ll set a pretty hard pick on him. And then move on.

The most you can do is stand up for what you believe in. I’m much happier since coming out to my friends and family. Being genuine and honest makes me happy.

I’m glad I can stop hiding and refocus on my 13th NBA season. I’ve been running through the Santa Monica Mountains in a 30-pound vest with Shadow, the German shepherd I got from Mike Miller. In the pros, the older you get, the better shape you must be in. Next season a few more eyeballs are likely to be on me. That only motivates me to work harder.

Some people insist they’ve never met a gay person. But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.

It’s the sentiment that’s been traveling around the sports-media world, but it’s one absolutely worth repeating here. At some point, the news of a gay athlete coming out won’t be news at all. We’ll get there one day, as a society, and that will be a great day. But on this day, the day that Jason Collins stopped lying to himself and the rest of the world, it is news. And it’s the most welcome news that anyone could have hoped for.

Congratulations to Jason and to whichever team decides to offer the free agent a contract for next season. This is the beginning of something that’s been far too long in the making in professional sports, but something that we all should be so lucky to get to experience.

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