Last February, few people knew who Jason Collins and Michael Sam were. And frankly, no one cared.
After all, at the time, Collins was a bench player for the NBA’s Washington Wizards and Sam had just completed his junior season of football at the University of Missouri. Both were athletes, one professional and one amateur, but neither were exactly studs within their respective sports.
Fast forward to present day, and now both Collins and Sam can be found on SportsCenter at pretty much any hour of the day. So what changed so much within the last year that both are now household names across America?
The answer: Nothing. Nothing has changed for Collins or Sam; they’ve actually remained the same in who they are. In fact, the only difference is that both Collins and Sam now embrace who they are, and that’s exactly why they’re making waves and headlines nationally.
Put simply, Jason Collins and Michael Sam are both gay athletes. Yes, you read that correctly: Collins and Sam are the first two North American athletes in any of the major four sports to publicly come out as homosexual.
Collins came out as gay in April 2013 after the NBA regular season ended. Since that announcement, Collins had been waiting on an NBA team to sign him until just recently, when the Brooklyn Nets signed him to a 10-day contract on Feb. 23. As for Sam, he came out just a few weeks ago.
While Collins and Sam are two different athletes in two different sports, they’re forever tied by their brave decisions to publicly announce their homosexuality in the ego-driven, testosterone-fueled world of professional sports.
But why did Collins and Sam both decide to be the first two athletes to publicly announce their homosexuality? Maybe it was for the attention, as @The_FastBreak, a random Twitter account I came across, tweeted on Monday: “Jason Collins is a thirsty for attention (deleted).”
That’s one hell of a “compelling” argument by @The_FastBreak, but something tells me that Collins and Sam didn’t do this for the attention.
Rather just being “thirsty for attention (deleted),” it’s clear that Collins and Sam are setting a new precedent in the sphere of professional sports; a precedent that says it’s okay to be and embrace who you are.
Whether they realize it or not, both Collins and Sam are trailblazing a new path within the sports world that will slowly but surely allow other athletes to feel comfortable in their own skin. It’s fair to wonder if Sam felt inspired by Collins’ announcement last year, and whether that’s what empowered him to come out recently. Soon enough, another athlete will come out as gay because he was inspired and strengthened by Collins and Sam, and the domino effect will continue.
But let me make one thing clear: Collins and Sam coming out as gay is not actually news, but rather it’s news because of the way that some people react to their homosexuality.
There’s still unjustified hatred towards homosexuals within our culture, and it’s a concept that many people of my generation, myself included, have never understood. Nonetheless, the hatred still persists and the taboo still remains.
On Monday, Washington, D.C. lobbyist Jack Burkman said he’s preparing legislation that would ban gay athletes in professional sports.
“We are losing our decency as a nation,” said Burkman in a statement. “Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man. That’s a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country. What in the world has this nation come to?”
Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached that we shouldn’t judge a man based on the color of his skin, but rather the content of his character. So shouldn’t we do the same with homosexuals and judge them based on the content of their character, too?
Just as Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in sports back in 1947, Collins and Sam are now breaking the “gay barrier” in sports in 2013 and 2014. The path towards acceptance for gays in pro sports won’t be an easy one, but it’s a necessary path to begin.
No matter what side of this issue you stand on, consider this: Decades ago, many of our white ancestors verbally berated and taunted Jackie Robinson and other blacks for playing professional sports. Today, many idiots, such as @The_FastBreak and Jack Burkman, are still doing the same types of things, but directing them at gay athletes rather than blacks.
Thus, I propose the following question: How do you want history to remember you?