Gay in the NBA

Phoebe Hammer, Sports Editor

NBA player Jason Collins has never been an All-Star, but on Monday he made professional sports history, becoming the first active male athlete in major American team sports to announce his homosexuality.

It seems overdue.  Celebrities coming out are now so common they barely make headlines. But even though the United States has become significantly more supportive of gay rights in the last few years, homophobic attitudes have always surrounded major American team sports. This barrier has been much harder to break.  In the past, only retired players have publicly come out, but times are finally changing.

“I think the country is ready for supporting an openly gay basketball player,” Collins told ABC News.  He could not have been more right.  In the last few days, he has received hundreds of supportive tweets, phone calls and e-mails.  Even the biggest names in the NBA — including LeBron James, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett — showed their support through social media.  Bill Clinton and even President Obama personally called Collins to congratulate him on his courage.

“It’s incredible. You just try to live an honest, genuine life and next thing you know you have the president calling you,” Collins told ABC.

Collins hopes this will open the door for other professional athletes to come out before retiring, but even with so much support, the anti-gay ethos that has surrounded pro sports for so long will be hard to deconstruct.

“I don’t think football is ready. There’s too many guys in the locker room and, you know, guys play around too much,” said NBC news analyst Hines Ward.  This explanation is full-blown homophobia, and comments like these are the only thing holding players back.

NFL player Mike Wallace of the Miami Dolphins posted on Twitter: “All these beautiful women in the world and guys want to mess with other guys.” Having teammates like these would likely make many players wary of following Collins’s lead.

Even in the Oberlin community, which we often assume to be very liberal, there has been negative feedback.  NBA analyst and Oberlin grad Chris Broussard (OC ’90) stated that living an openly gay life is a sin, like “walking in open rebellion to God and Jesus Christ.”

Despite these comments, the positive responses to Collins’ statement, especially from NBA peers, have been outstanding.  Most importantly, while this is a momentous event, the fact that it doesn’t really matter says even more.  Many colleagues have said that Collins’s sexuality is a “nonissue” and as long as he keeps “making good screens and working hard,” there is no problem.

Collins’s sexuality may not seem like a big deal, and it probably shouldn’t be a big deal, but it shows how many teammates, opponents, coaches and fans are ready to break down homophobia in professional sports. Jason Collins has opened a door that can’t be shut and provided a model of courage for others to follow.