Back in February, I wrote about the possibility of a pro athlete, in a major sport, coming out of the closet, and how that athlete would likely find far more acceptance by fellow players than anyone expects. Monday, it played out before our very eyes, as Jason Collins, the Washington Wizards forward/center, announced in an open letter to Sports Illustrated that he's gay.
Reaction was widespread, and immediate, and overwhelmingly supportive. Fellow NBA players like Kobe Bryant tweeted their support, while a pioneer like Martina Navratilova, who was at the forefront of the gay movement more than thirty years ago, tweeted her joy, and respect.
It made me realize that my base point back in February, that I don't care who's gay, as long as they can play, is simplistic, at least when it comes to this situation. It took incredible courage for Collins to come out. Yes, he's a 34-year journeyman who's career was winding down anyway, but that's beside the point. He still wants to play in the NBA, and he had to know that there will be future teammates and opponents who initially will be uncomfortable will this. For the first time in his 34 years, he refused to let that affect his decision.
The next big move will come when an active superstar comes out. It will happen, sooner than later, and will be the final dagger to whatever homophobia still lurks in pro locker rooms, because at the end of the day, my initial take is the bottom line: if they can play, they can play. That's all players should, and will, care about.
But in this case, it took a little more. It took an average player willing to risk the final years of his NBA career to pave the way. That's courage.
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