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Patrick Hruby

Human Triumph

The Atlantic Sports Roundtable on Jason Collins, the NBA's first openly gay player

The Atlantic online

In retrospect, it seems overdue. In this week's edition of the Atlantic Sports Roundtable, we discuss NBA center Jason Collins' coming out:

Jake Simpson: ... in many ways, Collins is an ideal choice to be the first gay man to come out and keep returning to the locker rooms of a professional sports team. An imposing figure—Collins comes in at seven feet, 265 pounds—the veteran center is unlikely to face significant verbal harassment from the rest of the league. (Preemptive note to all homophobic athletes out there: You don't want to be the guy who gets your ass kicked for your bigotry, it won't look very good on your CV.) And basketball has been a leader of sorts on openly homosexual athletes. In addition to Griner and now Collins, former NBA power forward John Amaechi came out in 2007 after he retired ...

... there will undoubtedly be negative reactions from homophobic fans and players alike. But the tide of public opinion has inexorably shifted against the bigots. When the 49ers' Chris Culliver went on a homophobic rant before the Super Bowl, the condemnation was swift and universal (and as Culliver's recent Instragram post shows, bigots are bigots across the board). If Collins's coming-out party is a success—and it will be—other active athletes will follow, and not just in the NBA ...

Hampton Stevens: ... Yeah, maybe Collins will get some bad vibes in the locker room or on the court. My guess, though, is that the negative responses will be vastly outweighed by the good ones. My guess is that NBA players, coaches, and front-office people will offer Collins their acceptance and support. Some will be gay, sure. Many will be straight, but have gay friends or family. Some will simply love freedom.

We also know that whatever team signs Collins will see a little blip of protest. A few season-ticket holders might even be jerks and choose not to renew. Rest assured, they will be replaced—and far outnumbered—by new fans showing their support for whatever club gives him a contract.

Then, in a year or so, an even better thing will happen. No one will care who Collins sleeps with. After the frenzy of publicity dies down, the only thing that will matter about him is how he performs on the court. Period. End of story. That's the real beauty of it ...

Patrick Hruby: ... put yourself in Collins's shoes. It's not hard. Anyone who has ever been afraid of rejection—which is to say, everyone—can relate. Sexuality is irrelevant. Sooner or later, we all bake. Imagine the lack of joy, the sheer, inescapable loneliness, a lifetime seeking support with a finger planted on the censor button, wondering if anyone will embrace you for being, you know, you. Now realize how utterly unnecessary all of that should be. How unnecessary all of that actually is. Sports can be hugely symbolic, but in this case, sports is a small part of the larger picture. We have a short time on this planet. Life is hard enough, in ways great and small. Why make it harder for each other? Roger Ebert once said that "to make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts." He was right. For 34 years, Collins missed out on the world in a very real way. This was a crime. For 34 years, the world missed out on Collins. This was a crime, too.

I'm happy that's over. I'm happy Collins gets to be himself and be loved exactly for that. I hope his story helps others do the same. In 1938, researchers began a study that followed 268 Harvard undergraduate men for 75 years, measuring everything from personality type to IQ to drinking habits to family relationships, all to determine what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing; recently, longtime director George Valiant published a summation of the study's insights. The key takeaway, according to Valiant? "The 75 years and $25 million expended on the Grant Study points ... to a straightforward five-word conclusion: happiness is love. Full stop." Jason Collins is a 34-year-old NBA center. He's black. He's gay. Starting today, he is as free to pursue happiness as the rest of us. Full stop.

Read the full article at The Atlantic Online