It has finally happened, and it’s about time.
A 2011 Gallup poll conducted among US adults revealed that 25% of America’s population is thought to be gay. This estimate is hardly scientific, as there is no empirical data to correctly assess the number of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals in the general population.
Still, the argument has often been made that whatever that percentage might be, if it’s a given that at least some LGBT persons make up the general population, shouldn’t a similar number exist in the ranks of professional athletes? After all, except for superior athletic skill and prowess, these are for the most part average human beings from many different nations and all walks of life. It would seem absurd to believe that there aren’t at least some that would have a sexual preference different from the majority.
There has also been a prevalent belief that these athletes are frightened by the prospect of rejection from their teammates, fans and society in general…should they publicly admit these sexual preferences. Although it’s not the “official” reason, it could be a powerful justification for appearing straight, which at least for some must be the same as living a lie.
So, bravo to Jason Collins of the NBA’s Boston Celtics to be the first to openly admit that he is gay.
Sixty-six years ago Jackie Robinson became a hero to many when he became the first player of African-American descent to play on a professional American baseball team in the modern era. He is remembered fondly as the man who broke the “color line,” opening the door to allow players of any color or nationality to play baseball…and, later, all sports.
Now, it would seem that Collins should be remembered in much the same way.
There is an excellent piece by Dan Levy on the site BleacherReport.com about a recent Sports Illustrated article concerning Collins and his decision to “come out.” Here’s a Collins quote from the SI story:
No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.
Levy makes this point, one of many thought-provoking ones in his story:
Being a minority isn’t easy in this country, but most minorities don’t have the choice to hide who they really are.
We can’t hide the color of our skin or the texture of our hair or the shape of our nose. We can’t choose our skin color or our nose or our hair or any other characteristic that defines who we are physically.
We can’t choose our thoughts and our feelings, either, but they are so much easier to hide, making something like homosexuality very confusing for society and very difficult for those within that community to admit and fully understand.
If you knew you felt a way that would bring ridicule and shame upon you within your community, but you had the ability to hide it from everyone, wouldn’t you do that?
That’s what gay athletes have been doing for years, and until more brave people like Collins and former U.S. National team soccer player Robbie Rogers come out and proudly admit who they are, there may still be the stigma that being a gay man in American sports is something to hide.
It is not.
Being gay should make no difference in judging an athlete’s performance than if he or she is white, Catholic, vegetarian, left-handed–or, all or none of those things.
I’m not a fan of the NBA…but I just became a fan of Jason Collins.