One Giant Leap for Mankind
By Andrew Fish Fain
In the annals of sports, there have been more than 50 athletes that have “come out of the closet” to announce their sexual orientation. Whether it be the well-known like Martina Navratilova or Greg Louganis, or the lesser known like Edward Gal or Andrew Goldstein, they have all summoned a ton of courage and announced to the world who they are.
The one thing that all of these athletes have in common is that they have waited until after they retired from the spotlight to make the announcement. Whether it’s because of social morays or just fear of reprisal, not a single one was able to do so while active. This is in no way an indictment of them, just merely a fact.
It still took a tremendous amount of gravitas to announce to the world that this is who they are, and repercussions be damned.
But April 29, 2013 is an even more momentous day in the cause of Gay Rights. On that day an active professional basketball announced to the world that he was gay. In doing so, Washington Wizards center Jason Collins became the first athlete in a major American team sport to come out as gay during his playing career.
Just about a week before, the top pick in the WNBA draft Brittany Griener also came out, but with all due respect, I don’t think it had the kind of impact that Collins announcement does and will.
I have the utmost respect for the amount of courage it took for Collins to do what he did. There is no way that it was an easy decision to make. To be a trailblazer in any arena is tough, but to do it in the macho world of pro sports takes it to an entirely different level.
In a personal essay set to publish in Sports Illustrated, Collins states “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay. 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. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
The signs were there for Collins even before the announcement. He chose to wear his uniform number, 98, in honor of Matthew Shepard, a student at Wyoming who was tortured and murdered just outside of Laramie, Wyo., in October of 1998. During the trial, reports indicated that Sheppard was targeted because he was a gay man. But he told people that he chose the number for one of two reasons, either because that was his freshman year as a standout at Stanford, or because he wanted to give NBA referees trouble, as they have to use their fingers to report fouls.
People may scoff at what I am about to say, but what Collins did; I believe took more courage than what Jackie Robinson did. I only say that because when Jackie played baseball he couldn’t conceal the fact that he was black. Collins could have never said a word, and nobody would have ever known. But instead he announced it to the world.
Sure there will be stupid, ignorant bigots who will give Collins a ration of shit for being gay. I am sure he will have to endure quite a bit of abuse for his decision. But there is always a price to pay for greatness.
I for one applaud the courage and fortitude it took for Collins to come out and let the world know who he is. I think he deserves all the kudos in the world. I can only hope that others will take his lead and allow themselves to be who they really are.
We are now at a point in this world where it shouldn’t matter what your sexual orientation, your religious beliefs or any other thing that makes you outside of the “norm” are. It is more important to be true to yourself than anything else.
I just hope the price he pays for doing what he did is not too big, because he deserves applause wherever he goes, and nothing less.