By: Forest Godwin, Feature Writer
A few hours have passed since the news began reporting that an active NBA player has decided to “come out” to say he is gay. Many have used the words groundbreaking, courageous, historic, hero etc. I thought, finally a league is going to have to honestly deal with what it means to have a gay player among its ranks. What will the league do? Will this open the floodgates for other gay professional athletes? Will leagues that say they believe their organization provides an atmosphere more than tolerance, but actual acceptance of a gay player actually be able to prove their stance?
All of those thoughts came to mind before hearing the name Jason Collins being broadcast as the active NBA player. I watched in disbelief as radio and television talking head one after another touted this as ground breaking. One such broadcaster called this announcement monumental.
“Our focus will always be on bringing in players that can contribute to the greater good of the Atlanta Hawks and ensuring that we create the most accepting, respectful, and productive environment for players to succeed,” said Hawks’ president of basketball operations and general manager Danny Ferry in a released statement.
Now, it’s time to add a little perspective to this discussion. Before we get started, this article is not at all about whether being gay is immoral or if it should be accepted.
Let’s be clear, Collins is not a hero. Nothing he is doing should be considered historic. Perhaps, in his own life, among his family and friends, there was a certain amount of courage needed to reveal his sexuality to them in such a public way. But he is by far not the first athlete to “come out of the closet.”
“We have great respect for Jason and his message today. Creating an environment where we support, respect, and accept our players’ individual rights is very important to us,” said Hawks’ managing partner and NBA governor Bruce Levenson. “Jason represented everything that we look for as a member of the Atlanta Hawks and we are proud he wore our jersey.”
The timing of this announcement coincides with the probable end of his career. Collins likely won’t be on an NBA roster next year and that has nothing to do with today’s announcement. Collins has had a solid NBA career. But the 12 year veteran is at the end of his career. He spent this past season buried on the bench of one of the worst franchises, the Washington Wizards, of the 2012/2013 season. His contract is up and there is no reasonable expectation that another team will want an aging, oft-injured center added to their roster in an era where the salary cap is more restrictive than it’s ever been.
So, the headlines calling Collins an “active” player are misleading. His season and most likely career ended April 17 with a loss to the Chicago Bulls. Collins played nearly 17 minutes, scored 2 points and had 3 rebounds.
Collins will not have to deal with any of the fallout that is expected to arrive when the REAL first active athlete comes out of the closet. He won’t have to deal teams and fans in opposing arenas attacking him verbally. A franchise won’t have to address the issue of having a gay player in the locker room.
Because of political correctness, no player or organization could say anything negative, but he also won’t have to deal with the whispers of teammates and other fellow players.
This part of history has already been told. John Ameachi has already broken that barrier.
Even in the NFL, former San Francisco 49er offensive tackle has admitted he is gay. He was charged with felony domestic violence after a very public fight with his ex-boyfriend.
If Collins were in year seven of his career and not have cleaned out his locker for the final time, perhaps he could be looked at as a legitimate history maker. However, he will not have to deal with any of the obstacles a player who is actually still active will face.
I acknowledge it’s not common place for male team sports athletes to admit to being gay either during or after their career. But calling Collins courageous, a hero or ground breaking is like recognizing black MLB players after 1961.
Certainly those black players in the years after Jackie Robinson faced plenty of racial obstacles, but a large part of the hard work had already been done.
It’s why Pumpsie Green of the Boston Red Sox is considered to be one of the last milestone players to integrate baseball.
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