He'll never be mistaken for a Hall of Famer on the court, but NBA journeyman Jason Collins just became one off it, generating the kind of shockwave he's never been able to create in over a decade in the NBA.
"I'm black," the former Washington Wizards center-turned-current NBA free agent's watershed essay begins innocuously enough on Sports Illustrated's website, "And I'm gay."
That it took us over a century to reach the point where a professional athlete felt comfortable being true to himself is absolutely deplorable. But the fact that Collins felt comfortable enough in today's day and age to make such a public announcement without worrying about jeopardizing future employment opportunities seems to indicate the tide is changing.
Every generation of athletes needs a pioneer to break through outdated prejudices held by the small-minded, to stand up and say, "This is who I am and I'm not going anywhere."
In regards to a guy like Collins, it's about damn time.
Despite what some may choose to believe, the numbers suggest every fan has rooted for at least one homosexual professional athlete at some point in time, even if they went about their business in fear of coming out. Not knowing didn't threaten you as a human being. You didn't care, so long as the players on the field were leading your favorite team to victory.
Regardless of your stance on homosexuality, Collins has to be looked at as a hero for using his stature to provide a disenfranchised minority with a very public voice. Someone had to be first, and he brought himself into the limelight on his own terms before somebody else could, an admirable decision given what was potentially at stake.
But for as far as we've come, we're not all the way there yet if Twitter reaction is any indication.
Miami Dolphins star wide receiver Mike Wallace, for one, said in a since-deleted Tweet that he didn't understand why a man would choose to be with another man when there's any number of beautiful women in the world. He later tweeted an apology, saying "Never said anything was right or wrong I just said I don't understand!! Deeply sorry for anyone that I offended."
Several Internet commenters also made the argument that homosexual and heterosexual players should have separate locker rooms.
Having been in a number of pro sports clubhouses and locker rooms, this is a ludicrous argument. Gay or straight, professional sports locker rooms are downright disgusting, perhaps the least sexually charged atmospheres to ever exist. That's to say nothing of the fact that at the end of the day, they are an office. The average person doesn't stand around leering at their coworkers in cubicles, after all.
By outing himself, Collins provided generations of sports fans with the role model they've been seeking. While he's the first to come out, let's hope he won't be the last.
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
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