Hero of the Week Award: May 3, Jason Collins

3 May
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

It isn’t often that one of the week’s biggest stories coincides with a worthy hero, but this week it was an easy match. NBA free agent Jason Collins demonstrated courage and leadership by becoming the first publicly out male athlete in one of the big four team sports.

That’s a lot of qualifiers, because although sports is still one area where being out is less prevalent, there have been many pioneers. David Kopay and Billy Bean  both came out publicly after retiring. Martina Navratilova was one of the first out athletes still playing. Glenn Burke, sadly unknown to most people today, was out to his teammates and coaches while still playing, a decision that cost him his career. Building on the work of these men and women, Collins has taken things to the next level.

Not only did he come out very publicly, he did so as a cover feature in Sports Illustrated. That speaks volumes about how things are changing and how Collins’ courage should burst open some other athletic closets soon. Somebody had to take this step, and as Collins watched his straight friends participate in Pride activities and provide public support to the LGBT community, he realized it needed to be he:

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. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand…

Thank you for raising your hand, Jason. Let’s hope a sea of hands rises with yours.  We need more wonderful role models in the LGBT community.

I also have to call attention to Jason’s honoring of the late Matthew Shepard.  Jason picked the number 98 for his jersey to honor Matthew Shepard.  Shepard was brutally murdered in October of 1998.

Honorable mention goes to the many people who took the time to congratulate Collins and provide him support. Hopefully this outpouring will embolden other players. Special mention goes to retired NFL player Leroy Butler. He was scheduled to provide a motivational speech at a Wisconsin church. His simple tweet of support to Collins resulted in the invitation being rescinded, costing him the $8500 speaking fee. Butler took the time to expose the church’s non-Christian behavior and reiterated his support. That’s a class act.

10 Responses to “Hero of the Week Award: May 3, Jason Collins”

  1. Bruce Kestelman May 3, 2013 at 7:30 am #

    Thanks Michael.

    Even though the selection of Jason Collins as Hero of the Week was probably a “no brainer;” that’s when it may be most valuable to say, hey, let’s stop here for a second and reflect on what just happened. Let’s put this in context. Let’s celebrate the moment and use its energy to continue on with the journey to equality, inclusion, fairness, respect and social justice.
    Thanks for helping with the context and reminding us of the journey. How very Zen. It is really about the journey because it will be journey that is never ending. Each “win” along the way is just a milestone going forward. It’s too bad that folks that come after those milestones aren’t required to look back first and see what it’s taken to get to where we are; to understand what they may take for granted may not have come so easily.
    And thanks too for the nod to a former Green Bay Packer, LeRoy Butler.
    It’s a great day!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 3, 2013 at 7:31 am #

      Bruce, thank you for your voice and solidarity. You are such a strong ally for the LGBT community. Thank you also for the nod to LeRoy Butler.

  2. momshieb May 3, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    I’m a long time Celtics fan, and one of my happiest moments was this week, hearing Doc Rivers reaction to Collins’ statement. Basically, Doc said, “Why would this be anyone’s business?” and “He’s a great guy, for a lot of reasons. Why do people worry about what other people do in their lives?”
    I just loved the understated nature of his response! The whole “Why are we even talking about this?” attitude, that I also see in my 20 something kids. Time for love to just be love!!!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 3, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

      Amen! “Time for love to just be love!!!” Let us hope we are moving in that direction with due speed.

  3. Bruce Thompson May 4, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Michael, for me it wasn’t just that he came out. That didn’t do it for me to consider him to be a hero. It was the way he came out – with class, dignity, and without apology or shades of shame. It not only rang true in a very authentic way that is believable (for the skeptic in me), it was also smart, sensitive, intelligent, and wise. It didn’t hurt that he happens to be Black, intelligent, academically accomplished, “masculine,” good-looking, and seem to be quite the gentleman. A “catch!”

    The feature in the Sports Illustrated would be great to unpack as a civics lesson for students of all ages. It covers our gay history, cultural difference and nuance, psychology, sociology, health and wellness, and last, but not least, the truth/harm that is the “Closet.” And for Mr. Leroy, a big wet kiss! lol.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 4, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

      Bryce, I always love your voice of social justice! Yes, I categorically agree with everything you said. I would also call attention to his level of risk coming out as a gay black man in the United States. He he has certainly earned his place in history!

  4. Jay May 6, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    A tiny quibble: in addition to honoring Matthew Shepard, Collins also cited the founding of the Trevor Project in 1998 as part of his motivation for switching from jersey number 34 (which he used for the first ten years of his pro career) to jersey number 98.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 6, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

      Jay, I am very appreciative of the additional information, for it makes his number change even that more lovely!

  5. Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 3, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    Thanks for reblogging this, Nancy.


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    […] via Hero of the Week Award: May 3, Jason Collins | Social Justice For All. […]

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