The greatest compliment that Jason Collins could receive to his announcement that he is a gay basketball player is indifference.That, in this modern world, in 21st century America, that it’s no bigger a deal than confessing he’s a vegetarian.
“He gay so what?,” tweeted London Lions’ Tayo Ogedengbe. “So what’s the difference between Britney Griner coming out and Jason Collins doing the same thing?” added Plymouth Raiders’ Mike Ojo.
In the UK, many would regard it with the same lack of horror as was shown when John Amaechi, the poster boy for such things, made his own admission of homosexuality. In the USA, in the often-conservative world of professional sport, there is a still a definite illiberal streak. What is good for the chattering classes of Manhattan is the death of civilisation in the rural Midwest.
So you’d think right?
It is only hours since Collins, who played last season with the Washington Wizards, came out in an essay with Sports Illustrated magazine, revealing the prior anguish of staying in and the rite of passage taken to reach the point of no return.
Some knew, some – including his twin and ex-NBAer Jarron – did not. Nothing new there. Yet, save for the usual band of mindless and nameless Internet trolls, there has not yet been a Tim Hardaway moment, an immediate reaction of complete and utter repulsion from among the basketball family.
“Just glad he can now relax and not be afraid to be who he is,” Tony Parker added. From Doc Rivers, who has coached both Collins and Amaechi, came total backing for a man who was in the Celtics locker room on a daily basis until he was traded mid-season to DC.
“I am extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins,” said Rivers. “He’s a pro’s pro. He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite “team” players I have ever coached. If you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that team-mates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance.
“One of my favourite sayings is, ‘I am who I am, are whom we are, can be what I want to be its not up to you, it’s just me being me.’”
Which is precisely, said Collins, why after 12 seasons in the NBA, often dating women, carefully constructing a cover, that he decided to kick open the closet. That, if someone was going to cross the rubicon and come out while still in the midst of their career, it would be him.
“Now I’m a free agent, literally and figuratively. I’ve reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want,” he wrote in SI.
“And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and team-mates recognise that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.”
The truth, he trusts, will set him free. But amid his admirable statement, there is one issue to hold up to account.
Jason Collins isn’t the first openly gay active NBA player. Not yet.
Wait until next season, and let’s see where the 34-year-old signs, and if he makes a roster and whether he is allowed to fit in or is cast out.
Should he run onto the court, and take another step forward, then the world can recognise it as a major shift.
And hopefully, focus on the next play, and think: “he’s gay, so what?”
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