I love sports. I’m not talking about a fleeting emotional impulse elicited by a glance from across a room; I’m talking about a sweet embrace from a dear friend, or that feeling you get when reunited with family after far too long. I truly love sports, and not just for the competition of it, but for the values derived from it. Sports can be a unifier, as well as a great divider, but it always seems to mimic the social struggles of the community and exemplify the time period. Women started a league of their own, picking up bats and balls and rounding the bases while the men of Major Leagues Baseball fought in World War II. Far from lawmakers in Washington D.C., one courageous major-leaguer (Jackie Robinson in 1947) and an all-black collegiate basketball team (Texas Western Miners of 1966) were defying conventional thinking and making statements heard all over our great country. Magic Johnson taught us how to love each other and perceiver, no matter how dire a prognosis, all the while putting a very public face… on a very taboo subject (HIV/AIDS).
Again we find sports front-and-center of an issue that challenges societal norms and forces us to have those uncomfortable conversations we avoid by turning our backs or averting our gaze. In an issue of Sports Illustrated published earlier this week, NBA free agent center Jason Collins forced us to look each other in the eyes, and have one of those uncomfortable conversations, as he became the first active player in one of our major sports to reveal he’s gay. “It’s time to live my life genuinely,” said the very religious 34 year-old Stanford graduate during the interview. Sports allow us to debate a hot-button topic like homosexuality within the context of something we all enjoy. It can also be the catalyst for more in-depth dialog on the topic: How will he be accepted by other players, teammates, coaches, organizations and FANS (both at home, and on the road)? Are we ready, culturally… spiritually… for an openly-gay athlete in our major sports? Jason Collins is hoping, in fact praying, the answer is yes.
It’s a challenge for someone with strong faith to go against teachings held dear. It’s also hard living a lie, as Collins needed to develop “cover stories like a CIA spy,” in order to keep up his lifelong charade. As a man of faith, I understand The Word as not just a book of stories and rules that must be strictly followed, but as a living, breathing and evolving message that should advance as society advances. I won’t tell anyone what to think or how to react, but the reality is… Collins may have been the first, but he will not be the last. How society embraces or ostracizes Jason Collins will determine how long we wait until the next athlete feels the burden of hiding is too cumbersome to bear.
Religion, ethnicity, intelligence, body-image, and sexual-orientation have been some of society’s isolators/separators. I can’t tell you we’re ready for an Open-Athlete, but the fact that Collins and countless others felt they had to hide, must say something for the environment around them. As with all off-color jokes told in the locker rooms of almost every sport, when teammates can genuinely laugh together about it, then we’re making progress. When being gay isn’t used as an insult (faggot), or motivator for one to act tougher, or be more manly (Nancy-boy, pansy, etc.) then we’ve gotten somewhere. It’s hard being a trailblazer and lonely being the first, but Jason Collins can finally live his life… after stepping out.
-Joseph Haas, HaasStyleInterpretations.com