By Ken Reed

Sportsworld, perhaps the last bastion of pure unadulterated homophobia in American culture, had its closet door kicked slightly ajar Monday when NBA player Jason Collins became the first active, openly gay athlete to come out in one of the four major American team sports leagues.

In a poignant letter in Sports Illustrated, Collins writes about his journey and the reasons he decided to come out when he did.

“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport, ” wrote Collins. “But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. … Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.”

Here’s hoping Collins’ coming out helps give more gay and lesbian athletes — of all ages and abilities — the courage to come out and be true to themselves. It’s a shame that we live in a culture in which homosexuals — especially gay and lesbian athletes — feel they need to suffocate who they truly are in order to fit in. Collins had finally had enough of constantly censoring what he said or did in order to be accepted. He says he now wants to live the rest of his life being “genuine and authentic and truthful.”

“No one wants to live in fear,” wrote Collins. “I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. … It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. … I’m much happier since coming out to my friends and family. Being genuine and honest makes me happy.”

There is some beautiful and powerful writing on the Web regarding Collins’ announcement.

Consider this from Jim Thompson, founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance:

“Positive Coaching Alliance is about Better Athletes, Better People, and no one can become their best if they can’t embrace who they are as a person. The very best athletes, the best performers in any profession, effectively put much of their energy toward accomplishing their goals. If one of your goals is to hide who you actually are, there is less productive energy available to put toward goals that can help yourself, your team and our world, which badly needs the creative energy of all people.”

Then there was this from the Washington Post‘s Sally Jenkins:

“Bravery takes a lot of forms, physical being just one, and a particularly unappreciated brand of it is social courage, which is the courage to risk your place in the society you move in. … Colliins didn’t play it safe. He found the inner resolution to go forward — and in doing so made it safer for others.”

Dave Zirin wrote the following in his blog for The Nation:

“The significance of this moment cannot be overstated. Homophobia becomes eroded when straight people actually have a family member or friend come out of the closet and then have to confront their own prejudice. Now in the NBA we have Jason Collins saying, ‘Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.'”

Patrick Hruby had this eloquent take in a sports roundtable discussion for The Atlantic:

“Put yourself in Collins’s shoes. It’s not hard. Anyone who has ever been afraid of rejection — which is to say, everyone — can relate. Sexuality is irrelevant. … Imagine the lack of joy, the sheer inescapable loneliness, a lifetime seeking support with a finger planted on the censor button, wondering if anyone will embrace you for being, you know, you. Now realize how utterly unnecessary all of that should be. How unnecessary all of that actually is.”

That pretty much nails it.

It won’t be easy for Collins, but he believes he can count on his future teammates being supportive.

“A good teammate supports you, no matter what,” wrote Collins.

That sentence takes on greater significance when one realizes that we are all “teammates” while we’re living on this big blue ball.

“I want people to pull together and push ahead,” summarized Collins.

I’ll second that. The road will be rocky. And it definitely won’t happen if most of us just sit on the sideline. We need to speak up and take action to ensure that gay and lesbian athletes are treated as equally and fairly as their heterosexual teammates and opponents.

Let me suggest a couple first steps: 1) Go see the movie 42, about Jackie Robinson’s breaking of baseball’s color line. There are numerous lessons about the importance of standing up to injustice in that film. 2) Sign the pledge at Athlete Ally. According to the organization’s website, an Athlete Ally is “any person — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity — who takes a stand against homophobia and transphobia in sports and brings the message of respect, inclusion, and equality to their athletic community. Athlete Allies include competitive and recreational athletes as well as coaches, parents, teachers, league officials, sports fans, other sports participants and advocates.”

Let’s get busy pulling together and pushing ahead.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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