Friday, May 3, 2013

Jason Collins: The Jackie Robinson of the NBA

By Colleen Pagnani

For the past 12 seasons, Jason Collins has played in the NBA. And for the past 12 seasons, Collins has been holding in a secret so large it could change the game he plays, and the sports world, forever. This past week, the 34-year old Washington Wizard’s center made a huge announcement: He is gay.

As the first openly gay male athlete in a major American pro sport, “Collins has forever changed the face of sports,” said the Human Rights Campaign. This revelation is so big that some are even comparing it to how Jackie Robinson changed the face of Major League Baseball by becoming the first African-American player to play in the modern era.

Why is his announcement so newsworthy, one might ask? The topic of sexuality in male professional sports is not usually brought up. People always seem to assume that every one of these athletes is straight, when in reality, that is not always the case. Little kids look up to these men. They are tall, muscular, and very skilled at what they do. Sadly, that’s just it. These men tend to be judged by their physical appearance and not their personality and feelings. With this admission, there is a good chance that all male athletes will look at each other, and be looked at, very differently.

During a time in America when equal rights are still a huge political issue, and trying to legalize gay marriage is an everyday conversation, this type of announcement is not completely surprising. What is surprising about it, though, is the fact that Collins plays in a sport full of strong-willed men, in an organization that has been around since 1946, and he is the first of those men to come out publicly while still active in the league. The WNBA has already had women come out publicly in the past, so it isn’t that unheard of in the sports world.

In a personal essay that will be published in Sports Illustrated Magazine, Collins admits to the world, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” He has said that he never planned to be the first active player to come out, but he is okay with it ending up like this. Since no other male athlete has come out, he decided to step up and raise his hand to say, ‘I’m different’. Of course, this whole process has been an internal struggle for him, as it would be for anyone.

Collins has received a lot of support throughout the league, as well as from former political leaders and ordinary people who are proud of his actions. David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, said in a statement, “We are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.” Even former President Bill Clinton gave his two cents on the subject, saying this announcement is “an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community.”

No one knows how Collins teammates and opposing players will react to him in the future on the court after learning of his admission, but he stands by his decision, and no one should base their opinion on him based off of his sexuality. Everyone’s different. Even though there are people who may not be okay with his decision to come out, does not mean Collins should be judged for being the person he is. Everyone has feelings, and people need to remember that.

No one is saying that because Collins has come out, other players who are also gay will now willingly come out. Although there may be more gay professional athletes in the NBA, NFL, NHL, or MLB who have yet to come out, does not mean they ever will. Some may decide to keep the truth to themselves, their families, and closest friends, choosing to never come out publicly. However, as Collins said, “The most you can do is stand up for what you believe in.” The sooner they admit it, the happier they will be in the long run.

Colleen Pagnani is a sophomore at St. Thomas Aquinas College pursuing a degree in Business Administration. She is a member of the college’s softball team and plans to graduate in the spring of 2015.

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