The importance and value in what Jason Collins has done — beyond his own soul-freeing catharsis — showed itself swiftly and starkly as word spread across social media. America finally had its first active athlete in a major professional team sport reveal himself as gay. He wasn’t a big star. No matter. Eventually, someone had to stand up. On Monday, someone stood up.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center,” Collins’ story in the new Sports Illustrated begins. “I’m black. And I’m gay.”
As intimately revealing as Collins’ coming out was, it was not as revealing as the reaction that immediately followed.
An enormous, uplifting wave of praise and support for Collins bloomed across Twitter, along with rogue, discordant notes of ignorance and intolerance that were like small black clouds scudding across a beautiful sky. We saw both extremes in Miami’s own backyard.
Heat star Dwyane Wade Tweeted: “Jason Collins showed a lot of courage today and I respect him for taking a stand and choosing to live in his truth. #nbafamily.” Within minutes thousands had re-tweeted Wade’s positive message.
Then there was new Dolphins star Mike Wallace, whose unfortunate reaction to the Collins news was this: “All of these beautiful women in the world and guys want to mess with other guys … I just don’t understand it.” Within minutes Wallace’s intolerance was so widely shouted down that he deleted the tweet, soon replacing it with an apology.
So the value in what Collins has done isn’t just that it finally sets ajar a door that had been firmly shut.
The even greater value is that it allows us to remind ourselves as a nation that our priorities are good.
Open-mindedness beats bigotry.
The accepting outnumber the prejudiced.
The reaction to Collins’ announcement suggests to us that for every drunken boor who might call out a homophobic slur in a basketball arena next season — and you know that person is out there — another thousand voices will be cheering Collins, respecting his bravery, his willingness to be The First.
That assumes there will be a next season for Collins, a 12-year veteran who ended this season with the Washington Wizards but is currently a free agent. He wants to continue playing. It has become important that he does.
It’s so strange.
The biggest star in sports Monday was a marginal player who isn’t even playing at the moment. A guy some of us had never even heard of before. You are officially a journeyman of little notice when the NBA teams you have played for (six) outnumber your career scoring average (3.6).
Collins jokes about “the three degrees of Jason Collins,” saying half-kiddingly that every NBA player has either been his teammate or knows someone who has. Sure enough, the Heat’s Mike Miller was Collins’ teammate in Memphis and sold a German shepherd dog to Collins. (Shadow is the dog’s name.)
Plenty of support
Now, suddenly, Collins, the reserve on the far end of the bench, is a pioneer of sorts in pro sports, and certainly a hero to many in the LGBT community. Praise and support for him Monday came from the White House, from Bill Clinton, from human-rights groups, from the NBA, from regular folks.
Kobe Bryant tweeted: “Proud of JasonCollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others.”