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 His simple tweet of support to Collins resulted in the invitation being rescinded, costing him the $8500 speaking fee.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.