When the news broke that Jason Collins was coming out every sports writer, blogger or fan probably had a knee-jerk reaction to run to a keyboard and start typing. I’ll admit I did, but thought better of it. Not everything can be analyzed right away and knee-jerk reactions typically lead to missing the true significance of a story. With that being said I will spend the rest of this post giving this story some context to help you see the true significance of the admission and what the real story or stories are.
“The story isn’t that Jason Collins came out. The story is that an organization synonymous with rape, illegal gambling and fighting came together. The LGBT community could not have picked a better person to come out. Jason has so much support – from the league, other players, and so many people. The fact Presidents Obama and Clinton both addressed it speaks volumes to me.” – Matt Jamieson, Vital Voice staff writer.
Many of the first headlines and stories on this topic yesterday seemed to focus on the fact that he is openly gay. To me, that is not the story here. Yes the significance of his coming out should be noted, but being a homosexual athlete by itself isn’t really noteworthy.
The supportive reaction from political representatives isn’t even the story. The story is, as Jamieson said, the overwhelmingly positive reaction from the sports world.
Let me share a few of the most notable reactions from Twitter:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 29, 2013
I would like to pledge my support to Jason Collins, and hope someday that we only get judged by our accomplishments.
— Steve Nash (@SteveNash) April 29, 2013
— Barry Sanders (@BarrySanders) April 29, 2013
— Larry King(@kingsthings) April 30, 2013
The other, and perhaps even bigger story coming from his courageous admission is the effect it could have on young men or women who have been afraid to come out. A young man or woman struggling with their sexuality may finally have the courage to come out after seeing this story in the May 6th edition of sports illustrated. The acceptance shown by such notable figures may make them comfortable enough with themselves and their lifestyle that they no longer feel they have to live in the fear of being judged.
Thanks to Collins, the young ones in Pee-Wee football today won’t know a world without an openly gay male pro athlete. The teens in youth basketball, just starting to understand their own sexuality, will forever have someone to look up to, someone who looks like them. The young gay men playing college baseball today got a shot in the arm: They now know the sports world is ready for them. – Cyd Zeigler, Co-Founder of Outsports.com
Furthermore, the noteworthy reaction could help put an end to something that has plagued our society for the last few years: bullying. In some cases, bullying has led to suicide. Because of this admission and the overwhelmingly supportive reaction he has gotten from politicians, celebrities and most importantly athletes, those who have been bullied may finally feel like someone has their back.
High Stakes For Collins
There is another facet to this story beyond the reaction that makes this story even more significant. Collins, a 12-year veteran of the NBA is currently a free agent. This admission could end his career. Not because he’s gay, not because of the homophobic fears that are believed to run through the veins of American sports; but because of the financial risks that could be associated by signing the journeyman center.
The backlash could be immense.
If your fan base and the local media are extremely conservative you could see boycotts and an overwhelming negative reaction from writers and reporters. Things could be even worse for Collins if the fans turn ugly. Racist or homophobic chants could follow him from arena to arena. He could get booed every time he steps on the court or touches the ball. The most unruly fans may even try to find his house and vandalize his property. I’m not saying this will happen, but it is a realistic concern in today’s world that is still filled with racism, bigotry and stupidity. Bob Dylan once wrote “The times they are a changin'”, that is true. But will the change be quantifiable and will it come soon enough?