Sports & Outdoors

Collins’ revelation changes NBA

On Monday, April 29, NBA player Jason Collins made history by becoming the first active, openly gay player in a major American sports league.

Collins, a 16-year veteran center who has played for six different organizations, outed himself by penning the cover story of the May 6 edition of Sports Illustrated, where he wrote more than 1,500 words about his journey and his decision to come out. The story was released for online readers on Monday.

In his story, Collins talks openly about the need for a greater degree of dialogue surrounding the issue, saying, “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay player in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”

Professional sports has long been seen as a refuge for homophobia; widespread stereotypes about traditional masculinity and homophobic statements from figures like retired NBA guard Tim Hardaway and current NFL cornerback Chris Culliver have kept active gay players from disclosing their sexual preferences.

Collins’ statement is the first suggestion from within the sporting world that things are changing. Prior to the article, there had been growing speculation that a number of gay players were getting ready to disclose their identities.

As such, the NBA and the NFL have each released statements saying that the organizations would stand by and support any gay player who released his identity. Indeed, current NFL players Chris Kluwe and Brandon Ayanbadejo have been incredibly vocal about their support for gay rights.

And if the reaction to Collins’ revelation is to be believed, these players and organizations are not in the minority. Collins’ article was met with widespread support and approval. NBA Commissioner David Stern and current NBA star Kobe Bryant have publically praised Collins, and even figures as removed as Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have expressed their support.

While a modicum of condemnation is perhaps to be expected, the homophobic statements made by NFL wide receiver Mike Wallace and current ESPN analyst Chris Broussard appear to be just a small drop amid the deluge of support for Collins.

Ideally, Collins will be just the first in a line of players, both current and retired, who publically come out as gay. No individual—athlete or otherwise—should have to hide their sexual identity out of fear of appraisal from his or her co-workers.

While professional sports—and society in general—have a long way to go before making this vision a reality, the reaction to Collins’ article suggests that a once-closeted portion of our culture has come a long way in a short period of time.