Greg Cote | In My Opinion

Greg Cote: Reaction to Jason Collins shows bigotry will always lose

Jason Collins (98) of the Washington Wizards rebounds against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in Chicago on April 17, 2013. In a Sports Illustrated story NBA center Jason Collins came out, becoming the first openly gay active player in major sports on April 29, 2013.
Jason Collins (98) of the Washington Wizards rebounds against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in Chicago on April 17, 2013. In a Sports Illustrated story NBA center Jason Collins came out, becoming the first openly gay active player in major sports on April 29, 2013.
Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images
WEB VOTE Should Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace be forgiven for his insensitive tweet about Jason Collins?

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.”

Steve Nash tweeted: “The time has come. Maximum respect.”

The reaction encourages us that Bryant and Nash are expressing what would be the prevailing opinion in sports’ closed society of locker rooms. It won’t be unanimous, for sure. We’d be naïve to think the homophobia or simple lack of understanding initially expressed by Wallace didn’t have plenty of people agreeing with Wallace, or that some of those wouldn’t be teammates or opponents.

Hard lessons

The bully in the schoolyard loses his empowerment, though, when others stand up to him. The Neanderthal in the locker room using the gay slur must understand he is the one stuck out there on the far fringe, not speaking for the majority.

Wallace learned that hard lesson Monday. For him it was that an unpopular exercise of freedom of speech comes with its price.

Hopefully, other athletes who agreed with Wallace but knew better than to tweet it out loud learned their lesson, too.

The broader lesson: It just isn’t cool to be anti-gay. It isn’t right. Some might even seek their justification in religion, as when ESPN’s Chris Broussard on Monday called being gay “an open rebellion to God.” But surely love and tolerance should be religion’s overriding message, no?

Would it have been “better” if the first active major team sports player to come out was a bigger star? Sure. But Collins doing it first makes it that much easier for whomever decides to be second, or third.

Collins enjoys no star power, but his message is just as powerful, maybe more so, because he better represents that most gay people aren’t stars or celebrities, either. Bulletin: They’re regular folks. (To even say it like that in 2013 seems ridiculous, but then you read that original tweet from Wallace …)

No more hiding

Collins says in the SI piece that he first knew he needed to go public when his former Stanford roommate, Joe Kennedy, the Massachusetts congressman, mentioned marching in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade. Collins then decided, “I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, ‘Me, too.’ ”

He said, “It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret.” He spoke of wearing his “straight mask,” and that he grew tired of living under the threat of being outed.

“The announcement should be mine to make, not TMZ’s,” he wrote.

You know there will be a lot of athletes reading those words and nodding, because they understand. They are still guarding that big secret.

One of them will be next.

Jason Collins just made it a little bit easier.

Read more Greg Cote stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, left, and center Chris Bosh watch from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wednesday, April 16, 2014 in Miami. The 76ers defeated the Heat 100-87.


    Greg Cote: Dynasty or dismantling for the Miami Heat?

    A Heat playoff run is the annual gift we slowly unwrap together, our two-month emotional thrill ride ever since LeBron James grandly announced he was “taking my talents to South Beach” that summer night in 2010. Well, buckle up again, South Florida. Prepare for exhilarating highs and work-productivity lows. Prepare for late nights walking drained from the downtown bayside arena. Prepare for hearts to soar or plunge on whether a basketball swishes through a nylon net or bonks off a painted rim.

Charlotte Bobcats' Al Jefferson, left, drives past Miami Heat's Shane Battier, right, to dunk during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014.

    In My Opinion

    Miami Heat sweep would challenge rosy outlook by Bobcats’ Al Jefferson

    I think that Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson, not a star in the NBA but a good player, must lead the league in seeing the bright side, in trying to find the best in a bad situation. This talent figures to come in particularly handy in the next week-plus as his hopeless underdogs try to avert being swept in four games by the two-time, defending-champion Heat.

LeBron James cheers as he holds both trophies after the Heat won Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Thursday, June 20, 2013.

    In My Opinion

    Greg Cote: Element of doubt makes this Miami Heat quest intriguing

    This time it feels different, doesn’t it? The Heat in the Big3 Era always has found a way to keep things fresh and keep us fascinated, and now that means trying on a role unlike any the team has played in the previous three seasons. This time, for the first time since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade, Miami enters a postseason seeming a bit vulnerable — something close to the unlikeliest of underdogs.

Get your Miami Heat Fan Gear!

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category