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Jason Collins is being called a hero, but why?

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We live in a country where whites cannot disagree with minorities without being labeled racist.  Opinions that differ from women only come from raging sexists. And anything that questions the actions of a homosexual is gay-bashing or right-wing, Christian extremism.  photo: justjared.com

Still, when it comes to homosexuality, there is a large chasm between ESPN NBA analyst Chris Broussard’s judgment and the stance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.  

I find myself in the middle of this divide.  

It isn’t as if I’m afraid to take a stand on the issue. Instead, I plead ignorance. I simply don’t know enough to concretely say who people should love.    

However, I am very comfortable expressing my view on NBA center Jason Collins coming out of the closet to Sports Illustrated.  And I say, big deal!  

Perhaps I am more of a curmudgeon than I thought.  Maybe I’m irreparably jaded and carry a cynicism that knows no bounds. Or, maybe I just loathe ‘groupthink.’  

Regardless, I don’t understand the narrative pervading both television and online news outlets now that Collins has decided to publicly own his homosexuality.  

In the last 48 hours I have heard Collins’ name linked with the likes of Jackie Robinson and Billie Jean King. Now he’s a leader of the LGBT, a face to change the entire professional sports landscape. One pundit even audaciously equated Collins’ declaration to the struggles of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.  

What am I missing here?  

Near as I can tell, all Collins has done is announce his sexual orientation to the world. Yet, I’m supposed to ignore the fact he has played 12 relatively nondescript seasons for six different organizations. He has never been a difference maker on the court. Now he’s going to change the thinking off it?  

Nevertheless, the media is calling Collins a hero. But what makes him heroic? When Collins penned his essay, it was with the knowledge he had grossed more than $30 million over his NBA career.  

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There are countless gay Americans living their lives out of the closet, facing harsh realities of intolerance, with courage and grace for minimum wage. Aren’t they the true pioneers?  Aren’t the two hand-holding young men I met at a wedding, the real heroes?  Isn’t the unapologetically colorful kid working the front desk at my hotel exceedingly more courageous than Collins?   

It’s a certainty there are gay men playing American professional sports at a supremely high level.  And I agree they might actually have something to lose by being openly gay. But protecting your closeted behavior because you fear a change in your tax bracket is not the same as staying in the closet because you fear for your life. Let’s be sure not to confuse the two.  

Pro athletes (Collins included) are always aware of their money and I believe the closeted gay among them will come out once it becomes financially beneficial. That doesn’t make them heroic, it makes them savvy business men.  

When I think of heroes, I think of people who stood against tyranny and injustice.  I think of people who made sacrifices for the benefit of many. I don’t see anything tyrannical, unjust or sacrificial about Collins’ experience as a closeted NBA player.    

Collins had many opportunities to publicly champion gay equality. He could have written an essay while at Stanford, one of the most liberal colleges in the nation.  He could have come out as an NBA rookie. He could have even made a declaration midway through his career. But he didn’t.  

If I were an out of the closet gay man, I wouldn’t think Collins had done me any favors. I’d wonder why he didn’t have the courage to come out sooner and I’d probably wish he were a better player.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not judging his decision to stay in the closet all these years. It was and is his right to live anyway he deems comfortable. I am merely making the point he avoided coming out during stages of his life that were far more perilous. And in my view, that makes his announcement little more than a footnote.    

Because the truth is, Collins is a journeyman at the end of his career. He is far more likely to gain from coming out now than suffer because of it.

I suspect he is smart enough to know that. 


 Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area.  He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention.  His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com

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 photo: justjared.com

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