We’re about 24 hours removed from Jason Collins revealing himself as America’s first openly gay major professional athlete, and I’m happy to report that we’re all still here. There were no riots. No locusts. No end of days. Believe or not, things are just as they were. You might even say they’re better.
It’s very strange having to write about Collins’ story through the spectrum of sports, because it differs so greatly from the way the issue is perceived by so many of us in our normal non-sports life. When the announcement was made yesterday morning, so much of the conversation immediately turned to issues of right or wrong. The use of words like "sin." The concept that homosexually is a choice.
Personally, I found it ridiculous. No different than overhearing a conversation about Jews having horns or African Americans having an extra bone or tendon in their ankle. Come on, a choice? I have gay friends and family members (we all do) who have suffered so much in their lives, who have had a really hard time (both publicly and internally) based solely on the fact that they’re gay. The idea that this was a choice they made, that they could have saved themselves all that pain and trouble by simply “choosing” to be straight is an insult. But it exists, and unfortunately, based on much of the commentary that’s arisen from Collins coming out, it’s the least concerning aspect of the way so many people perceive homosexuality.
Check out the comments sections of Collins' initial story on SI, or the comment section of any story (maybe even this one) that has been written on the topic since. There’s so much hatred. So much judgment. So many people willing to ruthlessly condemn Collins for a “choice” he made, and in many cases, using religion as an excuse. Now, obviously that’s a touchy subject. After all, religion is religion. Everyone has the right to practice and follow and live their life according to whichever set of beliefs they want. That’s their choice. But that’s the thing. It’s their choice.
Religion is a choice.
Jason Collins didn’t choose to be gay. He just chose to be honest about it. And it’s clear that his honesty has made a lot of people angry and uncomfortable. It’s led people to say some really horrible things about Collins and homosexuality in general, stuff that comes as a shock to many of us who live in world where that kind of unwieldy hatred no longer exists.
To be honest, there were moments during the aftermath of yesterday’s announcement when I really questioned whether Collins coming out was the right move. It was pretty disheartening. It just didn’t feel like the world was ready. It didn’t seem worth giving a platform to all that ignorance and hate. But the more I thought about, the more I realized that the world might never be “ready” for something like this. Instead, it takes something like this to make the world ready. To bring all that hate and differing opinions to the forefront, and force the conversation instead of allowing it to remain dormant.
To make people uncomfortable.
Because the truth is that the longer people feel uncomfortable, the more comfortable they become with the discomfort. After a while, that discomfort isn’t even a big deal, and at some point, they might even grow to accept it. And at the end of the day, that’s all we’re looking for here. Not that everyone must support homosexuality, but just that they’re accepting, tolerant and not so unbelievably hateful of it. Basically, we just want to get to a place where a professional athlete being gay isn’t a big deal. Where he can come out of the closet and we can all say “OK, cool. Good for him” and go about our day, instead of hearing people argue about it on TV and radio for 24 straight hours.
And thanks to Jason Collins, we’re closer to that reality. His was only the first step down a long road towards evolution and acceptance in professional sports. But it needed to start somewhere. And it only gets better from here.