It finally happened. A professional athlete in the US has come out of the closet. He’s not a household name by any means, but he’s an active athlete, making millions of dollars in one of the four major American sports leagues. His name is Jason Collins, and in his words: “I’m a 34-year old NBA center, I’m black and I’m gay.”
This is huge. Not the he’s-gay-and-he-plays-sports part. We knew, long ago, just going by statistics, there had to be at least one gay man who’ve made it as a professional athlete. What’s huge is the coming-out part, because coming-out in sports isn’t like coming-out in music. Because as a typical sports-loving, sports-playing straight American male, I know first hand the macho-mentality that’s pervasive throughout sports in America.
Not that I’m an expert on homosexuality in America, but I live with a gay man, and he’s shown me the hardships and barriers over which he and others in the gay community hurdle on a day-to-day basis. I also read X-Men, a Marvel comic book that, aside from being a standard superhero saga, could also serve as a metaphor for minorities in America. That the uncanny mutants in the books are constantly in conflict with a majority that either misunderstands, hates, or fears them is an allegory for the real life struggles of gays in America.
So between regular serious and jokey discussions with the flatmate on being a homosexual in today’s world and reading X-Men (the books have been amazing, by the way. Cyclops has gone full-on militant revolutionary, declaring war on those who are against the mutant’s way of life; he even killed Professor X, the Martin Luther King/Harvey Milk of mutants) the coming out of Jason Collins is seminal (shit, this could have been a gay joke pun) in that it could lead to a domino effect: surely, there are gay football and baseball players.
I should have known that the first athlete to come out would be an NBA player, because the NBA has long been pioneers in breaking barriers, be it racial, social, or gender, or sexual.
This is a league, after all, that spawned Michael Jordan, the first black man to become his own brand in America. Today, the league has the highest percentage of black men in management positions of any major corporation in the US. According to a report by the The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the league also leads all sports leagues in employment diversity: 34 percent of all NBA employees are people of color and 42 percent of them are women.
Speaking of the females, the NBA also funds the WNBA, the most prominent professional women’s sports league in the US. Though the league struggles financially — that’s putting it kindly, by the way, the WNBA loses tens of millions a year — the NBA shows unwavering financial and general support, for no real reason other than David Stern’s insistence that women should be able to love, and play, the game too.
(BTW, that’s just another reason why Stern is GOAT commissioner)
Let’s see, what else….oh employment of minorities/foreigners. This one is cake. The league is 80% black and has more European imports than the NFL, MLB, and NHL, obviously. Next.
Under Stern’s watch, the league has also gone global, and the support goes both ways. With the Basketball Without Borders program, the league ventures out to Europe, Asia, and Africa annually, holding free basketball camps, refurbishing broken courts, spending time with less fortunate, etc.
Within the US, the league has more employees from impoverished backgrounds than any other sports league.
And now, the NBA has the first openly gay professional athlete in American sports.
Racial, social, global, gender, sexual barriers, broken. What’s next?