It’s an exciting time of the year for sports, both on a national level and locally here in Iowa.
The NBA and NHL playoffs are into the first round with plenty of exciting play to go around. The NFL just had its draft, which is an annually overblown event with respect to the upcoming season. The NCAA tournament recently concluded with a worthy and heartwarming champion in the Louisville Cardinals. In Iowa, local high school athletes are gearing up for potential conference championships and trips to state, but the most significant event has already happened, and it came from a most unexpected place.
The word “hero” is thrown around so loosely in today’s sports. We often use the word to describe terrific play or clutch performances, but in reality, rarely do we ever see and recognize true heroism in the sports world. On Monday afternoon, I found the first true sports hero that I have seen in quite some time.
On Monday, in a phenomenally crafted piece in Sports Illustrated Magazine, Jason Collins became the first active player in a team sport to come out as gay. The journeyman center who most recently played forthe Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics has long been regarded as one of the most intellectually astute players in the game, as well as a terrific “team guy."
He’s never been an All-Star caliber player or one of supreme on-court ability, but he has managed to stay around because of his demeanor and poise. With that same demeanor and poise, Collins did something I would deem the most courageous act pulled off by a team sports athlete in my lifetime.
Regardless of what your politics or your religious beliefs suggest about Collins’ lifestyle, you can’t help but admire the man’s courage. It takes an enormous amount of bravery to become the first person to do something, especially something as “hot-button” as this.
He must have confidence in his ability to handle any sort of adversity. There is no way he could have predicted the incredible amount of support he has received from peers and fans. Now, when he has his first road game next season, that will certainly be put to the test, but for the time being, I think it says a lot about where we have come as a society and particularly as a sports culture for this to be a less than polarizing event.
This was, for all intents and purposes, the final barrier for gay athletes to break through. Women’s team sports have long accepted different sexual orientations. Individual sports have also welcomed people from all walks of life going back decades, for example Greg Louganis and Billy Jean King. But the issue has always been extremely taboo in men’s team sports. Ten years from now, this will probably seem like a silly notion, but amongst men there is still a good bit of trepidation regarding homosexuality.
I, personally, have plenty of good friends that would probably be very skeptical about having a gay man in their locker room, but that uncomfortable feeling is simply what we all experience when dealing with something we don’t fully understand.
There will be a necessary time of acclimation for Collins if he enters the next NBA season. There will undoubtedly be some uncomfortable players in that locker room initially, but given the long, drawn out nature of an NBA season, that feeling of discomfort will inevitably pass, and we will all be better off for it.
Thank you, Jason Collins. Nobody should ever have to hide who they are to make other people feel more comfortable. Sports can now move forward with the rest of the world.