And just like that, history is made. Just that quickly, a barrier becomes rubble. Just that fast, everything changes.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center,” writes Jason Collins in the May 6 edition of Sports Illustrated. “I’m black. And I’m gay.”
Chances are, you never heard of Collins before this week. He is no Kobe or LeBron, nor even a Jason Kidd or Ray Allen. No, he is a journeyman seven-footer who has bounced between six teams over 12 years, amassing a lifetime scoring average of 3.6 points a game. Yet, he just changed everything, becoming the first active male athlete in one of the big four professional sports to come out as gay.
And it seems only fitting that he makes this history while multiplexes are showing 42, an earnest recounting of the hell Jackie Robinson went through as the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. Not that Collins, assuming he plays next season (he is a free agent), can expect anything close to the catcalls, curses and physical abuse Robinson endured.
To the contrary, Collins’ announcement has triggered supportive statements from the likes of President Obama, Spike Lee, Chelsea Clinton, Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade. The few dissenting voices (Mike Wallace of the Miami Dolphins, Chris Broussard of ESPN) have been largely shouted down.
While that paints an encouraging picture of the progress we’ve made, one need only glance into the darkness beyond the public stage to realize that picture is incomplete. Messages of hate for Collins are already piling up online, as is this telling question:
Some variation of that haunts pretty much any online forum you care to visit any time a public figure comes out. Let “AlecWest,” whose remarks appear on a New York Times web page, stand in for the untold thousands who feel the same way. He wrote: “… (W)ho gives a rat’s patoot about the choice of someone’s sleeping partner(s)? I admit that I’ve never understood the ‘coming out’ phenomenon. … I swear, the next time I hear someone making a public big deal over being homosexual, I’ll have a T-shirt printed that reads, ‘I like to sleep with WOMEN!’ and wear it in public.”