Jason Collins seems to be the perfect gay storm, rolling in across the mountains and plains from Los Angeles and taking us all by surprise. Who could ask for more than this intelligent and articulate young man? An athlete's athlete, consummate team player. Cool and in control of his coming out. Handsome, great teeth --- 7 feet tall, 255 pounds. Self-identifies as a Christian.
Anticipatory hand-wringing about how an out professional male athlete would be received if and when one emerged from the closet has been going on for years. Much of it involves traditional stereotypes about professional male athletes --- big, dumb and bigoted. That's just silly. For the most part, these are accomplished young men of a generation unlikely to worry much about the sexual orientation of a teammate.
If problems arise, they're likely to do so among older coaches, money-crunchers and some fans. But this kid is a rock star now and when he hits the court again --- his handling of the situation guarantees this will happen despite advanced age (34) --- cheers rather than jeers will raise the roof.
It was a little troubling for us older folks to read about the inner struggles of a young guy like Collins, however. Seems like he shouldn't have had to go through all of that in this day and age, but of course many if not most still do.
He had worn jersey number 98 in honor of Matthew Shepard, tortured and murdered because he was gay near Laramie, Wyoming, during October of 1998 --- incredibly moving. The physical contrast between the dimunitive Matthew and the mighty Jason could not be greater.
A sour note on Collins' big day came from ESPN commentator Chris Broussard, who for some reason decided to explain to America why the gay athlete couldn't possibly be a Christian. That gave more conservative pundits something minor to rally around, although it's useful to remember that Collins hadn't gone into detail about his sex life --- folks like Broussard just assumed they knew. The Broussard clip is worth watching, if you want to find it. It's another of those reasons why an increasing percentage of the population preceives Christians --- and not just the conservative ones --- as bat shit crazy.
About the only other thing the disgruntled could find to fuss about seemed to reflect repressed personal sexual fantasies --- many couldn't imagine sharing a locker room with some gay guy bound to be fascinated by their shriveled penises and bloated bodies.
There were those who trotted out the old "they're flaunting it" line, including some guy named Limbaugh who asked, "does it have to be rammed down everyone's throats all the time?" --- perhaps inadvertently expressing a repressed fantisy of his own.
Well, yes it does. In addition to lifting a personal burden, Collins' coming out was carefully calculated to make a point. Others will be, too. Everyone who speaks or writes or in other ways emphasizes now and then his or her sexual orientation does it for a reason. So buck up, straight boys and girls, this is going to go on for a very long time.
The New York Times' Frank Bruni explained why in an excellent essay, published Tuesday. This openness that is perceived by the disgruntled as flaunting or ramming will go on, in Bruni's words, until the day comes:
When a gay, lesbian or transgendered kid isn’t at special risk of being brutalized or committing suicide. When the federal government outlaws discrimination against people based on sexual orientation, which it still hasn’t done.
When immigration laws give same-sex couples the same consideration that they do heterosexual ones. When the Defense of Marriage Act crumbles and our committed relationships aren’t relegated to a lesser status, a diminished dignity.
When a Rutgers coach doesn’t determine that the aptly ugly garnish for hurling basketballs at his players’ heads is the slur “faggot.” When professional football scouts don’t try to ascertain that potential recruits are straight.
When an athlete like Collins can be honest about himself without his and his co-author’s having to stress that he’s a guy’s guy, a godly man, someone who stayed mum about himself before now precisely so he wouldn’t disrupt his teams or upset his teammates, someone who’s inhabited locker rooms for 12 seasons already without incident.
When a gay person’s central-casting earnestness and eloquence aren’t noted with excitement and relief, because his or her sexual orientation needn’t be accompanied by a litany of virtues and accomplishments in order for bigotry to be toppled and a negative reaction to be overcome.
When being gay doesn’t warrant a magazine cover or a phone call from the president, any more than being 34 or being black does.
We want it all now, if not for ourselves, then for those who follow. And we aim to have it. Read all of Frank Bruni's essay here.