Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Preconceived Idea of What It All Meant

Something very big happened in the sports world–something larger than wins and losses.

We like to think of ourselves as living in a progressive society with acceptance for all people, yet we’re reminded how backwards things still are when Mississippi finally ratified the Thirteenth Amendment less than ten weeks ago.

But this morning, Jason Collins did something no active athlete had ever done before. To quote his Sports Illustrated first-person story:

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

Collins became the first active athlete in the four major American sports to come out, something for which he should be commended. It takes a lot of courage, especially in our culture that is still insensitive to many minorities. Especially in a league like the NBA, where there is a sadly prevalent use of hurtful slurs, even by star players who are supposed to be roles models. Especially when artists like Lil Wayne will drop that same word without a second’s thought in his verse in Look At Me Now.

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Side note: how did nobody ask Collins why he wore the number 98? The great Hamed Haddadi is the only other player in NBA history to don that unique number.

But who Jason Collins is doesn’t change the player he is. Even if he never plays another minute in the Association–he’s a free agent this summer coming off his sixth team in twelve years–today’s news doesn’t change the fact that he’s a very strong interior defender, a near-champion in the NCAA and NBA, and a beloved teammate. My opinion of him as a player–like all teams’, players’, and fans’ should–remains the same as it was less than twenty-four hours ago.

Jason Collins’ true legacy will be the day when an athlete coming out will not be news. Because it won’t matter. Hopefully Collins’ big decision will even inspire other players to open up about themselves. Jason Collins should return to the NBA because he is still a serviceable rebounder, defender, and mentor–or at least better than 40-year old Juwan Howard–not because it would make a good story.

But there’s a solid chance that Jason Collins won’t be back in the league next season. Not because he’s black. And not because he’s gay. Because that doesn’t matter in player evaluation. And if anyone thinks it should, Collins was, by all accounts, a fantastic teammate, and he’s the same person today that he has been for the past twelve years. The man never caused any problems in the lockerroom before, so if an issue arises, that becomes the teammate’s problem.

Jason Collins may never play another minute in the NBA–but that’s because he’s a 34-year old center with no post game. When running an team, that’s all that matters. Strip away the fear, underneath Collins is the same as any other 7-footer. And that’s the way things should be.

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Categories: NBA | 1 Comment

A Memory Stuck Like A Tattoo

The first time I interviewed Vanderbilt shooting guard A.J. Astroth, I asked him a rather open-ended question: “What’s something most people don’t know about you?”

A.J. took a while to respond, then turned to sophomore forward Shelby Moats, who was walking out of the gym.

AJTat“What’s something most people don’t know about me?”

It took Shelby a few seconds, too, until he finally said, “you’re tatted.”

Well that was kind of obvious. A.J. is has more ink than a finals paper.

He’s got a giant lion on the right side of his chest with the words “Heart of a Lion” – the 6-foot-6 freshman is a Leo, after all.

On his right arm, Astroth has an image of a staircase heading up to a gate with the shadow of a basketball figure and the words “God’s Gift.” His tricep has a cracked hourglass with the words “Never Enough” wrapped around it. On the inside of his arm? The phrase “Sacrifice: without fear there is no courage.”

And then there is his right arm. On his right arm, there is an intricate cross with the words “Psalm 27” along with the dates 1926 and 2008. There is a rosary on the back of his arm and the beginning of Psalm 27 printed on the inside of his arm

The Lord is my salvation: Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life: Of whom shall I be afraid?

This arm is dedicated to A.J. Astroth’s grandmother.

LArmInsideLeftAstroth was born in Germany because his father worked in the military. Since his mother also had to work a lot, A.J.’s grandma helped raise him until the age of seven.

According to Astroth, his grandmother had at least 15 children and did not have any education past the eight grade, but he considers her one of the smartest women he’s ever met.

“She always knew exactly what to say for every situation,” said Astroth. “Just looking up to her, it was just something I grew up with. Knowing that everything’s going to be all right, even when things didn’t seem all right because she always knew how to go about things.”

Beyond being such a wise woman, Astroth’s grandmother was also extremely religious. Astroth can still remember the long, lively church services he would go to with her, but the more important religious aspect of his grandmother were the lessons and moments at home.

BackRightRArm“She was always lecturing me or yelling at me or putting me on the right track,” Astroth recalled fondly.

But perhaps more important than keeping young Astroth in line with his behavior was her use of strong faith as a form of comfort.

“When I was a little kid,” said Astroth, “she used to read me Psalm 27 whenever I got scared. As I got older, when I wasn’t really scared of the dark or things like that but I would feel down on myself, she would read that to me. It would be like a motivator to me.”

To Astroth, this quote symbolizes rising above temptation, rising above the evils of the world. Above all else, walking with God and walking with faith.

Once both Astroth’s family moved back stateside, the two were separated. His grandmother moved to Chesapeake, Virginia, and Astroth now lives in Tampa, Florida. Despite the distance between cities, Astroth still managed to see his grandma once or twice a year.

When they did meet up again, times were good. Astroth can remember his grandma coming out to play basketball with him and his cousins, even as she was in her 70s. And then there was her famous cooking he always enjoyed.

InsideRightWhen his grandmother did pass away, the whole family went through a tough time. Astroth knew he wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate her, but he wanted to wait until he was older.

During his junior year, Astroth’s mother finally allowed him to go get his first tattoo, the one he had been planning since his grandmother’s passing.

“I felt like I just wanted to get something to remind myself to always keep going no matter what.”

From a short glance at A.J. Astroth’s tattoos, it’s not hard to see that he derives lots of his motivation from religion. Between the rosary, cross, psalm, and “God’s Gift” moniker, that much is clear.

But what most people may not know about A.J. is the lifelong impact one great woman can have on a basketball player’s life.

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