When I was a sports-obsessed child with a big secret, I would lie awake at night thinking about how cool it would be for one of my beloved Denver Broncos to tell the world that he was just like me. I was a big kid, so my fantasy openly gay player was always an offensive lineman. I would close my eyes and picture him and his partner hanging out at Red Lobster with John and Janet Elway (John Elway was always more progressive in my dreams, and Red Lobster was the fanciest restaurant I could think of as a kid). At dinner they would reflect upon how equal they were as they chewed their Cheddar Bay Biscuits.
More recently, my recurring dreams involved me interviewing a top football player on the USC campus in front of a huge, supportive crowd and after he said he was gay. Jay-Z and Lady Gaga would come out and do a rocking mashup of "Oh My God" and "Born This Way." This was followed by the player's teammates singing an a capella version of "Still on Your Side" by '90s boy band BBMak. Then the world rejoiced.
I, and so many others, have been dreaming of an openly gay active athlete in one of the big four team sports for a long time. Last week our dreams came true in epic fashion.
Jason Collins is right out of central casting for this role. He is a religious, Stanford-educated veteran of the game who specializes in being physically tough on the court and intellectually tough off the court. Of course, it would be helpful if he were currently under contract and had LeBron-type numbers, but I'll still take it.
Many times in that whirlwind week, I had to stop and rub my eyes to make sure this was real life. In so many ways, reality has surpassed my wildest dreams. In just one week we have more information about the gay-sports intersection than we have had in all previous time. It's like at the end of the movie Twister, when the Dorothy machine finally works and they have tons of data to sift through for the first time. Here are some initial impressions:
Tebow vs. Collins
Because Tim Tebow was released on the same day that Collins came out, it seems that their fates are forever intertwined. There is a popular Twitter meme going around with different variations of this sentiment: "Tim Tebow is ostracized for his Christian faith. Jason Collins is praised for being the first openly gay athlete. #PrayForAmerica." All right, everyone settle down. I've been obsessed with Tebow's fame for a long time, and I don't know what game you are watching, but he is not ostracized for his faith; he is ostracized for his throwing arm. His faith is what made his jersey the bestselling NFL item before he'd even played a snap, and it is why we still talk about him ad nauseum, even though he is no longer in the league. Tebow was in locker rooms with an overwhelming number of colleagues who share his faith, in a sport watched by a country that is almost 80-percent Christian. By the way, his Christianity is the same as Jason Collins' Christianity, unless, of course, you listen to ESPN analyst and official-decider-of-who-is-actually-a-Christian Chris Broussard.
Speaking of Broussard, everyone settle down (again). He doesn't need to be fired or disciplined. Thinking that gay people can't be Christians does not impair his ability to get NBA trade information wrong or do the other aspects of his job. Stop focusing on his comments and start focusing on how LZ Granderson owned him in the second part of that discussion. If Broussard is the biggest dissenting voice, we are doing pretty well.
No More Jackie Robinson Comparisons
We've all done it. I've done it a lot, even in a headline on this site. We all need to stop saying "Jason Collins" and "Jackie Robinson" in the same sentence. I know we are creatures of comparisons, but beyond being the first person to do something in sports, there aren't a lot of aspects of either man to compare. Jackie broke the color barrier at a time when he faced unimaginable discrimination from every angle. Jason Collins came out at a time when he would receive phone calls from two U.S. presidents and supportive statements from the kings of his sport, not to mention the fact that if Collins gets on another team next year, he won't have to worry about not being able to eat in the same restaurants or stay in the same hotels as his teammates.
This is not to say that Collins hasn't had it hard (the closet is a bad, bad place), and it is definitely not to say that his journey will not face more difficulties. He has already received numerous death threats, and he will undoubtedly face some level of negativity in the locker room and in the stands. I am simply saying that we can celebrate his journey on its own without having to compare it to Mr. Robinson's journey.
Straight Allies Are the Best
A few weeks ago I was sitting in the cheap seats at Dodger Stadium with my husband and two of our best friends, who happen to be straight. The loud drunk guy behind us continually yelled about the effeminate qualities of Madison Bumgarner's and Buster Posey's names (clever, I know). His pontificating devolved into calling the Giants a bunch of gay guys. As I sat there fuming, thinking about how maybe we aren't as ready for a gay player as I thought, something amazing happened. My friend Kurt turned and used his firmest outdoor voice to ask the man if he "had a problem with gay people." The man cowered as he replied, "No, not at all. I'm just joshing the Giants." Kurt ended the conversation by saying sternly, "Well, shut up, then." The man shut up, and I realized a few things in that moment: First, my friends are probably cooler than yours, and second, the Jason Collinses of the world will not be in this fight alone. In the locker rooms and in the stands, there are Kurts standing by who will stand up for what is right.
Straight allies helped pave the way for Jason Collins to come out, and they will be very important to his (and all of our) success. Brendon Ayanbadejo, Chris Kluwe, Kenneth Faried, Hudson Taylor and so many others are vital characters in this chapter, and I am so grateful for their support and sacrifice. Last week so many more allies emerged, and this overwhelming support will undoubtedly make it easier for more athletes to live openly and honestly.
So Many People to Thank
There is a long list of openly gay athletes who came out after playing, or who came out in other sports, and we are all indebted to them. Jason Collins should also send thank-you cards to people like Jim Buzinski and Cyd Zeigler, who co-founded OutSports.com, which is the ultimate authority on the intersection of gays and sports, and to LZ Granderson, who has been an openly gay man immersed in the sports world since before it was something that received accolades.
A New Dream
Now that this dream of mine has been realized, my new dream is for a sports culture of indifference to homosexuality. Asante Samuel from the Atlanta Falcons wants us gay folks to stop "flaunting it," and if you don't use those words and change the meaning around, I agree with him. My hope is for the athletes who follow in Jason's footsteps to garner significantly less attention and fanfare. Two weeks before Collins came out, the best women's basketball player in the world came out, and no one noticed. Brittney Griner's blasé attitude in coming out publicly was hopefully indicative of the future. My new dream is for athletes to be able to live openly and honestly and for none of us to even care.