Well, it finally happened. A gay man came out as a basketball player. Wait, I’m sorry, a basketball player came out as a gay man. Amidst the growing climate change that is the Civil Rights Movement’s current struggle, Equality for Gays, Jason Collins’ coming out literally helped the conversation move from behind closed doors out into the public sphere. In a related story, protective body suit sales have skyrocketed, as conservatives believe that all the talk on homosexuality has actually created ‘fairy dust’ which is linked to potential micro-climate change, and are searching for ways to ward off infection until a cure has been found.
I have to admit that on the one hand, this is an important moment. By sharing his story and coming out, Jason helped every future boy and girl take one step closer to living a transparent life. On the other hand, why should Mr. Collins’ admission be any more important than the women and men who have come before him: Martina Navratilova, Greg Louganis, Cheryl Swoopes, and now Brittney Griner. More notably, why has the media given so much coverage to Jason while allowing someone in Brittney’s position to fade out?
How fitting that all this is taking place around a time when the pioneer himself, Jackie Robinson, first broke the bigotry barrier on athletics. When opportunities such as this one present themselves, it takes a certain man or woman to shoulder the burden of responsibility that comes with the spotlight. Jackie was ready and eager to be that person during that era, and although his skin color was obvious, he didn’t rely on words to make his case. He honed his craft and spoke through his play, outshining others both on and off the field. In order for us to move forward on homosexuality (especially in sports), it may require someone of this fortitude.
Today, we live in an age when technology has rapidly increased our ability to know more about people, places, and things. Just saying that you are this or you are that may not be enough to raise the level of consciousness. Some might believe that Collins admittance is only credible if Jason were currently playing for an NBA team. As sub-par as his career stats are, this is definitely not true, and only marginalizes the fact that he did play 11 to 12 seasons in The League. That is more years than most men can achieve in the four major sports. In contrast, though, Brittney has raised the bar very high for everyone; the athleticism and career accomplishments have helped to amplify her potential. In Griner, a company like Nike has the ability to capture a prominent female athlete in her sport. Collins, on the other hand, is not associated with that combination of both athletic greatness and spokesperson persona. Brittney has the promise to be a representative for any number of products based on her youth & celebrity status. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jason is further along in his career, and less known for his basketball dominance. Unfortunately, he may only be able to move the needle oh-so far.
Being recognized as a gay athlete requires one to be forthcoming about ‘who they are.’ Both Jason and Brittney have accomplished this step not just for them, but also for other gay athletes. The next conversation on barriers in athletics then becomes on how good ‘said athlete’ is, compared with their peers? Ignoring the potential that Brittney has to champion such a cause is the equivalent of shoving the Women’s Movement into the closet. Why sacrifice one for the other? Despite what some might suggest, being gay is not easy for either sex, and women have as much of a place at the table as men. Jason may be the answer to a long-debated notion, but Britney is the modern question of what could be: A person who transcends their sport and touches all of us so that we recognize human achievement in the face of adversity. I greatly appreciate the sacrifice that Jason has made to help all of us progress in recognizing equality. I now hope that Brittney can elevate that achievement to a point where it no longer matters.
by J. Marcus