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.
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.