Collins Becomes NBA’s First Openly Gay Player — And Why Do We Care?

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espnapi_dm_140224_Jason_Collins_Interview_wmainIf we can think about more important things happening in sports, such as Johnny Manziel’s impressive showing at the combine or even Derek Jeter’s place in MLB history, then the sports world would be a much better place. What amazes me is, the chatter we continue to hear about gay players, creating an uproar across the nation for dwelling on the issue of homosexuality. You must respect, if bitter, the way Jason Collins, a 7-foot center for the Brooklyn Nets, came out of the closet and became the first openly gay professional athlete in any of the four major sports.

And so what? Who cares?

Yes, he publicly came out as gay, and as people usually do, they freaked out when he told the world, and the media sparked an outrage nationally. There’s nothing really out of the ordinary about a person revealing he’s gay, especially in the world we live in today. Collins, in truth, isn’t the first person to announce he is gay, and certainly isn’t the last to share a secret.

So why was it such a huge deal when Collins made his debut against the Lakers at Staples Center on Sunday night? Why was it such a huge deal that he became the first openly gay player to play a game in one of the four major North American sports? Why do we care so much about a player’s sexuality, or how he lives his life off the court when he’s on his own time? Not that a gay player can’t be trusted if he’s inside the locker room standing next to a heterosexual, as some of these men are uncomfortable and reluctant to shower with a gay teammate.

With him being the first, Collins is only a gay person playing a professional sport. But he’s in the public eye and the story is hyperbolic only because he’s an NBA player. Look around, and you’d see gays and lesbians across the nation. What Collins admitted a few months ago should not have been significant, and all the nonsense is trivial. It’s understandable why celebrities and pro athletes who are gay don’t disclose their sexuality, and come to the realization that ignorant and heartless people will persecute them after informing the world. It apparently makes Collins feel better to let it out, and now, though he felt it was the right thing, America won’t shut up about it.

Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles LakersNever has a story of such a high magnitude lingered this long, drawing more publicity than LeBron James’ broken nose. By realizing that this is 2014 and that being gay isn’t as vile and unethical as it was, say, 30 years ago, it’s now time to cease ignorance and not feel animosity toward someone because they reveal who they really are in their skin. It is utterly absurd that Collins’ sexual orientation matters more than his physical defense and ability to clog the paint and set screens. The courage it took for the 35-year-old to make it public was a huge step for the NBA going forward in which Collins broke the discriminatory barrier in pro sports and drove some to reassess how they consider sexuality.

It’s going to take a process for those who don’t approve of gays to accept Collins as he is, but it really should not matter as long as he produces when he’s on the floor. The endless fuss to Collins’ gay confession has been asinine, and now, with folks still voicing their thoughts about him becoming the first homosexual to play a professional sport, the league, so far, is enveloped by it all.

Weeks removed from Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam announcing he was gay, athletes are determined to take a stance and own up to it. What is happening is more players are comfortable being themselves, and professional sports leagues stand by the values of fairness. But America, in many ways, is stuck in the past and wants to turn something petty into a national headline. Last time I checked, a person attracted to the same sex wasn’t ever newsworthy. But by Collins making this public, now everybody knows he’s sexually into men, and it certainly has some peeved by the reaction, and not once has it come to an end. This is historic to many, for whatever reason. To me, this is just another gay man who, like any other typical person, is living his life. And personally, I’m not bothered by it one bit.

Because, truth is, I don’t care about his sexual preference. That’s not to say you can’t believe gay is wrong, or weird, or sick. But I’m not writing this to judge Collins, and neither should you judge a man by his sexuality but by his character and talent as a player.

It’s not our business, as people, to know what he’s doing behind close doors and away from the court, knowing he’s entitled to live his own life as long as he’s not disrespecting one’s feelings. It’s our business, as people, to know whether he’s producing or underachieving for the Nets, a team that needed a big man with size and physicality, and Collins is that guy. If he can perform effectively, give his best effort off the bench and play a significant role, that’s all that matters. In the real world, it has been commonplace for heterosexuals to work alongside gays in the workplace in which the same should apply to sports franchises.

Sexuality is a common thought in every discussion in America today just about, but keep it out of sports, the one time people can escape reality for at least a couple of hours if not more. For all we know, around a time when there are a lot of people who support same-sex couples and won’t ever broadcast it, there are undoubtedly a lot of active NBA players who are gay. They just don’t have the willpower to admit it, with the fear of being humiliated or berated in front of the nation, particularly from the news media.

For Collins, fear didn’t stop him from speaking up.

Now that’s courage and fortitude.

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