On April 15, 1947, a 28-year-old Jackie Robinson sent shockwaves around the world by breaking racial barriers and becoming the first African-American baseball player to play in the Major Leagues.
Sixty six years later on Monday, April 29, Jason Collins of the NBA’s Washington Wizards broke down yet another controversial cultural barrier. Unlike Robinson, Collins was not the first African-American athlete in his sport – far from, actually – but rather he was the first in another controversial category.
On Monday, Collins became the first North American pro athlete to publicly announce that he is gay. Like Robinson, Collins sent shockwaves around not only the United States, but the entire world.
Collins took the initiative to represent an entire demographic of people – gay professional athletes – and that is something that takes tremendous courage and strength.
The 7-foot, 260-pound Stanford graduate made his announcement in a unique way, writing a story for Sports Illustrated about his coming out, what led to his decision to make this announcement and where he goes from here. In his article, which I must admit is extremely well-written, Collins doesn’t beat around the bush. In fact, he does the opposite, as he opens the article with this: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, isn’t exactly an All-Star caliber player. In fact, to be quite honest, he’s among the worst players in the league. But the great thing about this announcement is that it doesn’t matter. Whether it’s LeBron James or Jason Collins, it doesn’t matter how good the player is that makes this announcement. What matters is that Collins did make this groundbreaking announcement, and he’s finally comfortable in his own skin.
Collins described his inner-struggle by writing, “Imagine you’re in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know – I baked for 33 years.”
While Collins’ announcement was certainly unexpected and noteworthy, the hope is that announcements like this in the future aren’t big news.
Ten years ago, an announcement of this magnitude would be nearly unthinkable. As a society, as a culture, I don’t think we were ready for an announcement like this just 10 years ago. However, as time goes on, hatred and bigotry dissipate through learning and understanding.
As you mature, you realize that it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, gay or straight. What matters is how you treat those around you and how you treat yourself. By all accounts, Collins is among the most respected players in the NBA, as Celtics coach Doc Rivers referred to him as “a pro’s pro.”
So where do we, as a culture, go from here? Thankfully, the outpour and response from fans, players and coaches alike was much more on the positive side than on the negative.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, a public figure who has considerable influence, even sent out a congratulatory tweet to Collins following the news. Numerous other players and public figures did the same, and President Obama even gave Collins a personal phone call.
While most people congratulated Collins for being so brave and courageous, there will always be a select portion of society that’s stuck in the past. And for those people who point fun at Collins, referring to him by homophobic slurs and more, you simply just have to shake your head and feel pity for them.
Like it or not, the tables have turned in society. Once upon a time, bigotry and hatred were the themes of the majority party. Now, in 2013, that same ignorant group of society is now the minority, and their influence is weakening by the day.
So thank you, Jason Collins, for setting the precedent towards a new future. You just laid the first brick towards a paved path of openness in not just the world of sports, but in our culture as well.