Jason Collins. Active NBA player and gay man.
Jason Collins. Active NBA player and gay man.

Finally.  An active player from one of the four major American sports leagues has finally “come out” of the closet.  It’s long overdue, and frankly, I’m surprised it has taken as long as it has.

The intrepid soul who came out is Jason Collins, a Center, most recently for the Washington Wizards.  He bravely announced that he is gay via a Sports Illustrated article last Monday.  Per the article, Collins is quoted as saying the following:

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.

First of all, kudos to you, Jason, for having the guts to do what no one else ever has.  Sure, other athletes have come out, but not until their playing days are over.  It took a tremendous amount of courage to do this, and I applaud you for it.

I vehemently agree with Collin’s statement that someone else should have already done this.  Sports is the last major landscape where homosexuality has yet to be accepted.  Actors such as Ellen DeGenerous, Ian McKellen, George Takei, and Neil Patrick Harris are openly gay and astonishingly successful (true story, bro).  Musicians such as Ricky Martin, Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert, and Melissa Etheridge have all come out and remained successful.  Yet no athlete has ever come out of the closet during his playing days.  Homophobia runs rampant in locker rooms overflowing with testosterone, bigotry, and masculinity.

You should be able to be who you are without fear of scorn or criticism, whether it’s from sexual orientation, skin color, age, or gender.  Yet here was Collins trying to be something he’s not.  He tried dating women.  He was even engaged to one at some point.  He spent his entire life trying to be accepted by society instead of simply being who he was, and that’s a shame that society is still so harsh and unaccepting that people feel the need to hide who they are.  It’s unacceptable that people still feel the need to wear masks and hide within facades to avoid judgment and criticism.

I fully support Jason and his decision to come out.  I understand that being gay isn’t a decision he consciously made.  I know he didn’t wake up one day and decide to play for the other team.  He was born that way.  The same way he was born with black skin.  The same way I was born straight.  The same way I was born with white skin.  The same way I was born with depression.  The same way YOU, dearest reader, were born with whatever parts you possess (male or female), whatever color skin you have, and whatever color eyes you have.  It’s a part of him he shouldn’t have to hide from anyone for fear of ridicule.

Jason is currently a free agent, and it will be telling if he’s not signed by another team during the coming year.  What team will be willing to embrace the publicity that’s undoubtedly going to come with his signing?  Will the locker room of said team accept Jason?  How will opponents react when playing against him?  The NBA has a fantastic opportunity to make a dramatically positive statement here, and I hope they seize it.

Many people have come out in support of Jason’s announcement, including President Obama (not that I care what he has to say), NBA commissioner David Stern, Kobe Bryant, Doc Rivers, former President Bill Clinton (he still hasn’t inhaled), and Karl Malone.  I applaud those folks for their endorsement of Jason’s decision, which could not have been easy.

Predictably, other athletes took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with Collins’ declaration.  I won’t give them any more air time here than they’ve already had, but I would ask that you really analyze why you dislike a gay person.  What is the reasoning behind it?  Is it because you don’t understand it?  Why do you need to?  Is it because you’re homophobic?  Get over it.  I have.  Is it because they’re different?  So what?  You’re unique, too.  Just like everyone else.

The bottom line is that everyone deserves to be loved.  Everyone.  Nobody should be shunned or ridiculed simply for being who they are.  Put yourself in their shoes.  How would you feel if you were being bullied, insulted, or worse, just for being something you cannot change?  Have some compassion.  No one is saying that you have to like it, but you should respect it.

Jason Collins is a trailblazer, a pioneer, and a hero.  Here’s hoping that many more follow him down this courageous path.