By Jeff Girod
This week’s Sports Illustrated features a cover story titled, The Gay Athlete. In it, NBA player Jason Collins became the first male professional athlete from a major American sports team to come out.
Until Jason Collins, no man—not in the NFL, NBA, NHL or Major League Baseball—had ever admitted to being gay while continuing to seek to play professionally. After 12 NBA seasons for six different teams, the 34-year-old, 7-foot center felt it was time to share what he considered a secret.
“I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie,” Collins writes for SI. “I was certain my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality, I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.”
It has been 66 years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. It is both fitting and tragic that 42, a movie detailing Robinson’s struggle against bigotry, plays in theaters while Collins attempts to carve out a similar historic path against sexual intolerance.
More than six decades later, prejudice against homosexuality remains strong—both in and out of sports. And make no mistake: Bias against gay men and women is just as narrow minded as separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites were during Robinson’s era.
In June, the Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on two laws defining gay marriage. Some will tell you this is an argument about morality. They are so right. It absolutely is. It’s about everything we should be teaching our children at home, in our schools and, yes, even within our churches.
It’s about love and honor and acceptance. It’s about finally making an equal and welcoming place for people who are sometimes vulnerable and always different. It’s about realizing that the world is a big place full of diversity and we need that diversity to keep our society wondrous.
It’s about realizing that whenever a cause is furthered through violence, anger or hatred, not only is that cause unworthy and unjust, it’s also probably in direct conflict with the very morals it’s supposed to be promoting.
How disgraceful does it sound now trying to justify our nation’s shameful racist past to our children and grandchildren? That at one time blacks and other minorities had to sit in the backs of buses, and go to separate schools, motels and bathrooms?
Remember this moment, because in just a few years time this is how red-faced and embarrassed you’re going to feel trying to explain why two loving men or women couldn’t legally marry. Or why anyone, regardless of sexual preference, shouldn’t get to openly, confidently change uniforms in a locker room or play sports at its highest level.
This isn’t about personal choice or even religious belief. This is about basic human respect. It’s about something as simple as any man’s or woman’s or boy’s or girl’s right to kick, hit, throw, catch or even fall in love and marry whomever and wherever they want.
You believe being gay and loving someone intimately of the same gender is a sin? Fine. No one says you have to come on the honeymoon. Personally I think asking someone to repress his or her God-given sexual preference is as ridiculous as asking anyone to be taller or “less Chinese.”
You’re born the way you’re born. Percentages say most of us prefer the affections of the opposite sex. But some of us don’t.
And it’s far too convenient for the majority of us to say everyone else should get in line. Or maybe we’ve forgotten exactly why this country was founded in the first place — by pilgrims who sailed thousands of miles to escape the same closed-minded persecution and tyranny.
Thanks to Collins, from now on things are going to be a little different in professional sports. Someday soon, just as the clothes we wear and the cars we drive, how we behave may seem outdated in the movie version of The Jason Collins Story.
Contact Jeff Girod at firstname.lastname@example.org.