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.
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.