Reflection on The Big So What
The Early Lead column
May 2, 2013
Collins' lead in to his story goes, "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."
I'm a 24-year old sports writer. I'm white. And I don't care.
That's not to mock Collins or to belittle the significance of his announcement, but in a way it is.
While it's substantial to some, it's a shrug-your-shoulders moment to me and most in my generation.
I know this because when the "news" (a human being alerting us to his or her sexuality has never qualified as such to me) broke, I texted back and forth with several of my friends and the general consensus was, "good for him."
While I was raised in a conservative, Christian household I wasn't suppressed of reality and I grew up in the 21st century. And in 2013, I analogize finding out there's gay professional athletes to discovering restaurants are now serving brewed decaf coffee.
According to a 2011 poll by Gary Gates of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, 4 million adults in the United States identify with being gay or lesbian, representing 1.7 percent of the 18-and-over population. Some polls have indicated the actual number is closer to 5 percent.
The NBA is not some separate sector immune to the demographics of society.
So is it that difficult to believe a similar percentage of NBA players and professional athletes are gay as well?
I've seen Collins referred to as a hero numerous times throughout social media sites such as Twitter. Hero? Really?
Pioneer, sure. But when did being comfortable in your own skin become an act of heroism?
Perhaps this is a contributing factor as to why it was so difficult for a homosexual in sports to come out, because it is viewed as a landscape-changing event whenever one finally does.
And I intentionally limit the conversation to males because it is well-known that a large number of female athletes, professional basketball players and tennis stars in particular, are homosexual. It's almost assumed to a degree. Funny how that works, right?
Nearly all current and former NBA players who voiced their opinions on Collins' announcement were supportive. Former NBA player and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley said, "This is a great day for the NBA."
And while I echo their sentiment, I can't fathom it will have an overwhelming impact in the near future. Collins is a 12-year veteran and career bench player, who most of the general public had never heard of, and had it not been for this announcement, he would've remained in relative obscurity to those outside NBA circles.
(Now if Kobe Bryant or Lebron James suddenly decide to come out, then we might have something.)
Since Collins' announcement, part of the hero talk has hinged on how it will impact the young, gay athlete who is afraid to come out and possibly give him the courage to do so.
While I would welcome it, and hope those around that person would support them, I know better, and so do they.
That's why it won't happen.
A college buddy of mine, who I roomed with for three semesters, is gay. He played sports in high school, joined a fraternity in college - essentially a 24/7 locker room - and didn't come out until a month after we graduated.
I knew, all of our friends knew and none of us cared when he told us. Yet he said it was the hardest thing he's ever had to do, and he was terrified of how his friends and family would react.
He's the same person I became friends with, just much more at ease and truly happy now.
High school isn't a conducive environment to an openly gay athlete. At least not the high school I went to, and I don't forsee that changing.
So I would ask that sentiment be curbed. And I would hope rather than doing what I've seen many in my profession do - ask what something means and what great effect it could have - we take Collins' coming out for what it is: A personal decision that makes him a happier person.
We needn't celebrate it or ask for its greater meaning, but rather accept it and take some solace in the fact a few more teenage athletes in this country likely feel more comfortable about their future endeavors.
Acknowledge, accept and move on. That's the mark of true progress.
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