Yesterday Jason Collins, an NBA veteran of twelve years and multiple teams, publicly announced that he was “gay”. At least judging by the amount of media coverage it generated, this was big news. He was said to be the first player in the four major sports, which surprisingly does not include bowling and table tennis, to “come out” while he was still actively involved in the sport. A handful of other players have made similar confessions, but only after their careers had ended and they weren’t particularly well known..
However, in spite of how news-thirsty the media is, the amount of airtime this story generated and will continue to do so does surprise me a bit. After all, this is 2013. Change has come in spades. We have an African American president, 1/3 of the Supreme Court is female, Indian and Asian-Americans are some of our nation’s top scholars, not to mention influential figures in major institutions. On the homosexuality side, there are gay senators, CEO’s, college presidents, film and TV producers and rock stars. It’s normalized. Why should professional sports, of all spheres, be immune to the winds of change, particularly involving sexual preference? If any profession encourages male bonding, competitive sports is it.
Besides as an English teacher, I can’t help but analyze the semantics of the term “gay”. Gay means happy, and I would assume that most athletes, considering they get to play a sport for a living, are pretty happy individuals,even the Marlins players. So by that definition alone, most athletes are gay.
Perhaps semantics is not the issue here. Regardless I applaud Jason Collins’ decision as it seemingly took a lot of soul searching and fortitude to be so open in an ubber-machismo world. But I would probably respect him just as much had he not disclosed his sexual preference. He is a smart guy, a good athlete and has endured a long and productive NBA career. What is there not to admire? What Jason Collins or any other person in the limelight does behind closed doors is entirely their business. We live in a free country and have the autonomy to be who we want and choose whatever lifestyle suits our tastes.
Unlike other hyped stories, I will fight the urge to read more about this “watershed” moment in big sports or listen to the talking heads. Technically, Jason Collins simply admitted he was happy. And if Shakespeare’s adage “to thine own self be true” still has currency, I really hope more athletes admit they are “gay”, regardless of what connotations are implied. After all, the pursuit of happiness is the cornerstone of this nation’s founding.