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Published: Tuesday, 4/30/2013

Collins right guy to be 1st to come out

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Collins Collins
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

Jason Collins came out of the closet Monday and then walked right through the locker room. Good for him.

In the real world, this happens every day. It may not be usual, but neither is it exactly unusual. Now it has happened in the sports world. How long before that too approaches ho-hum?

I don’t anticipate there will be a crush of gay male athletes following Collins through that door, but it is open now, so who knows? Better yet, who cares?

Oh, some will. Homosexuality bucks some religious beliefs. It bucks some politics. There is intolerance everywhere, although perhaps less by the day. Some of his teammates and opponents may be uncomfortable. Alcohol-fueled fans are often cruel.

But after reading Collins’ first-person account in Sports Illustrated, I came away thinking this guy can take whatever anybody wants to throw at him. He seems strong, resolute, and articulate to the point of eloquence.

He has been known throughout a 12-year NBA career as a tough, physical post defender and a popular teammate. He has never been a star, but he has forged a reputation behind taking charges, setting screens, and — as he says with pride — entering every game knowing he has “six hard fouls to give.”

I don’t think taunts and name-calling are going to bother him one bit. Someone is always first, and he appears to be the right guy.

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” is how Collins began telling his story. “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”

And as the conversation continued and the Twitter-verse cranked into high gear, Collins may or may not have been surprised by who had his back.

“Character is found in those who lead. I am so proud of my friend, Jason Collins, for showing us all what leadership looks like.”

— Shaquille O’Neal

“Proud of Jason Collins. Don’t suffocate who [you are] because of the ignorance of others.”

— Kobe Bryant

“I’m proud of my brother. Great teammate and mentor.”

— John Wall

Maybe walking this road will be easier than Collins anticipated. We can only hope.

Contrast whatever challenge he faces to athletes in women’s sports where lesbianism, while not necessarily shouted or flaunted from the rooftops, has been a quiet slice of the culture for many years and is seemingly far more accepted than is the thought of a gay male athlete.

Just a few weeks ago Brittney Griner, the ex-Baylor basketball star headed for the WNBA, almost stifled a yawn while coming out, if that’s in fact what it should be called. She called it being herself.

“I wouldn’t say I was hiding,” she said.

Collins, on the other hand, acknowledged he has been living a lie. Or so he thought.

The NBA player said the first family member he told was an aunt. Her reaction was, “I’ve known you were gay for years.”

How many gay people do you know? Whatever your answer, I bet it’s more than that.

We don’t all come out of the same cookie-cutter. We are more like snowflakes: Unique, different in a lot of ways including, in some cases, sexual preference. Why should someone be denied the opportunity — perhaps even the right — to live a lifestyle of their choosing with dignity?

Collins wrote: “I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie.”

No one should have to experience that. Imagine living in fear of, well, your own identity. The rest of us don’t have to understand it, and we don’t have to endorse it. Heck, I suppose we don’t even have to like it. But why should such a personal thing be any of our business?

Jason Collins is the first admittedly gay male athlete in a major team sport. That made for a big headline on Monday. That put him on Good Morning America on Tuesday. Who knows what today will bring?

But the next guy who walks out of that closet and across the locker room will produce a smaller headline. The next, even smaller. The next, maybe an item in the briefs on Page 2. And then maybe we’ll stop paying any attention.

The U.S. military once approached the issue with a policy called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Maybe someday sports will have a policy called Don’t Care.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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