By Kirti Chakote
“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,” wrote Jason Collins in a self-titled article, “Why NBA center Jason Collins is coming out now,” published in Sports Illustrated.
On April 29, Collins had paved yet another brink in the pathway for gay athletes coming out in American professional sports.
He is a current free NBA agent, who just finished his 12th season playing for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.
Along with Collins, there were many other athletes who had already come out in 2012 in various other sports: Orlando Cruz (a professional boxer), Seimone Augustus (a WNBA basketball player), Jessica Aguilar (a mixed martial arts fighter), Wade Davis (a former NFL player), Lori Lindsey (women’s USA soccer Olympic gold medalist), Jason Ball (an Australian football player), Karen Hultzer (a South African Olympic archer), Megan Rapinoe (a women’s USA soccer Olympic gold medalist), Josh Dixon (a gymnast) and Ji Wallace (an Olympic silver gymnast).
Collins coming out in one of the four major American professional contact sports shows his desire to go against “a macho culture” that implies that gay men are not on the same level in strength and grit with straight men and serve as a disruption to team chemistry.
Contrary to this stereotype, he is actually known for his hard-press defense and led the NBA in fouls with 322 during the 2004-2005 NBA season.
The NBA veteran is the definition of a team player. Although many of his friends and families had urged him to come out during the NBA season, he made sure he did not say anything until the season was over, ensuring he wouldn’t be a distraction to the team’s focus.
However, he showed his solidarity for gay pride when he dawned number 98 this past season for the year in 1998 when Mathew Shepard, a University of Wyoming Student, was brutally murdered in a hate crime for his sexuality.
The overwhelming support for Collins was remarkable. Famous faces, from Kobe Bryant to the President of the United States, all commended Jason on his bravery to let out a secret that he had hidden for 33 years. Fortunately, this positive reaction shows how much the political and social atmosphere has shifted from the late 90s.
However, according to most critics, the true litmus test for the acceptance of Collins’ sexuality will be during the 2013-2014 NBA season.
It remains to be seen how the locker room will react to Collins, and how much of the heckling from fans will be geared towards Collins and his newly-discovered secret.
Fortunately, Collins’ courage is already showing some positive effects. Very recently, the number one pick in the 2013 WNBA draft Brittney Griner, came out as well. It has been suggested, according to CBSSports.com, that an active NFL player is strongly considering coming out in the next couple of months.
Some have said that Collins’ coming out means that we have overcome the final frontier against gay individuals, which is major professional American contact sports. Although this is a great statement to make, America still has to see how many other gay athletes will follow Jason’s lead.
Collins went from an athlete barely talked about, to a common household name for his courage. Although he is happy that he was able to overcome his fear, he can only hope that his actions will lead other athletes to not live a life in the shadows, to take a deep breath and live lives that truly define themselves.
An athlete should not be judged based on his private life, but whether he contributes positively to the success of the team.