“Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?” – Jason Collins
The Boston Marathon bombing has brought a sliver of tangential, unintended good to the sports world. And what a bit of good it was. NBA free agent, 34-year-old Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete active in one of North America’s four major sports leagues. In an open essay for Sports Illustrated written with SI’s Franz Lidz, Collins came out with the kind of simple eloquence that allows the magnitude of the situation shine through.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
And the rest went down in history. Collins’ statement was incredibly strong and well-written. The statement did a fantastic job of detailing the immense fear of getting rejected for simply being who we are, the struggle between who he is and who society wants him to be, and putting the seemingly indescribable thoughts of the roller coaster of ups and downs into context.
There were two parts that really caught me in reading his open essay on SI.
The first was the quote from Collins that I opened with. He was talking about how the April 15th bombing at the Boston Marathon was a contributing factor in his decision to publicly come out. How can something as ugly as an attack on our American virtues indirectly rear something as beautiful as a man realizing his true self? And to do it publicly at a time when the media is just waiting for that first athlete, to raise his hand when the rest of his athletic peers awkwardly sat at their desks desperately trying not to make eye contact with the teacher, took a great deal of bravery and trust in the unknown, untested waters.
When the nation is rocked with tragedy, many speak out to say that it is time to look in the mirror. Collins did just that, and the sports world should be grateful for it. We can finally exhale. Our man has finally come.
Because of the bombing, Collins openly embraced the fact that there is no “perfect time” to make such a groundbreaking announcement. Things can change in an instant. Things will change. Things always change. For better or for worse. Now, instead of letting the world change him, Collins changed the world. No matter what happens from this second on to the end of eternity, Jason Collins will always be the first active openly gay athlete in one of the four major sports.
Talk about empowerment.
The second was the wonderment of the possibilities that can – and will – come from this. After finally sitting down after a long days work, the tension relaxes itself away. Except Collins’ long day of work lasted for 34 years and his work consisted of masking who he really was. Collins is finally sitting down.
But with Collins relaxing, the tension around being an openly gay athlete also relaxes. Now that we have our first in all of the four major sports, we can move on to smaller, single sport areas of the first in the MLB, the first in the NFL, the first in the NHL. Hell, now we can move on to the first out superstar. It is inevitable, but thanks to Collins, it seems so much closer.
However, further openness to being out among athletes will depend on Collins’ acceptance in the NBA community. He is a free agent. Will a team sign him? The NBA expressed their support for Collins today. Would the NBA offer Collins a job in the league offices if he went unsigned? His 34 year old body may not be able to withstand another 82-game NBA season regardless of his sexual orientation, but his Stanford education can surely be an asset. Plus, the NBA would not want to be the first of the four major sports leagues to be labeled as the first openly homophobic league, would they?
As we wait for the future to play out, we should all hope for the best and prepare for the worst, just as Collins said himself in his statement. He is the first to come out, but certainly not the last. Just as the Boston Marathon bombing will not be the last attack on America.
But what the bombers will never know is that they spurred the biggest moment that sports has offered to the LGBT rights movement. They reminded us that things can change in an instant. For Jason Collins, they showed him that living a lie was not living at all.