‘I’m a 34-year-old NBA center, I’m black and I’m gay . . .’
So begins an eye-catching article in the most-recent Sports Illustrated magazine. The author, one Jason Collins, a professional basketball player since 2001, renowned for his all-action performances for, amongst others, Washington and Boston.
In penning a piece that has prompted praise from Presidents past and present and drawn comment – not all positive, it must be said – from all quarters, the courageous Californian has become the first openly gay man to play in a major professional team sport in the United States.
Jason has, he says, known his sexual orientation since childhood. That he hasn’t felt able to be open about it until now speaks volumes about the intolerance and prejudice that, we’re sad to acknowledge, remain prevalent in certain sections of our society . . .
Sections such as professional sports, for instance, where homosexuality remains a taboo topic. Earlier this year, a soccer player called Robbie Rogers revealed that he is gay, although he felt he had to retire from the sport (aged just 25) before he could make the announcement. In contrast, Jason Collins has no plans to quit basketball. He knows there might be consequences. He is determined to face them.
‘I don’t mind if people heckle me,’ he says. ‘I have been booed before. The recent Boston Marathon bombings reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant so why not live truthfully?’
It’s a good question. Does Jason’s sexual predilection affect his ability to throw a ball through a hoop? Should it matter whether or not he is gay? The answer in both cases is, of course, no. If only it were that simple.
‘The climate has shifted [and] public opinion has shifted [although] we still have so much further to go,’ he admits. ‘Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start. This is the difficult road and, at times, the lonely road [but] the most you can do is stand up for what you believe in. I’m walking the road less travelled but I’m not walking it alone. I want to do the right thing and not hide any more. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding.’
Here at OM®, where such things as tolerance, acceptance and understanding have always been important, we’d like to march alongside Jason. In that, we’re far from alone . . .
You see, in recent days, Jason has received backing from President Clinton, who described him as ‘a good man, who wants no more than what so many of us seek; to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities’. Just a little earlier, President Obama spoke on the subject, praising Jason and telling him he ‘should be proud, that this is just one more step in the ongoing recognition that we treat everybody fairly, that everybody’s part of a family, and we judge people on the basis of their performance and not their sexual orientation’.
The response from the bleachers and in the locker rooms remains to be gauged, although Washington coach Randy Wittman is confident problems won’t be encountered. ‘I’d still love to have Jason in our team,’ he said. ‘Black, white, Jewish, Christian – religion, sex, it’s all the same. Who gives anyone the right to judge anyone else?’
Resistance should be expected, but it must be hoped that Randy’s stance is the common one. Intolerance and prejudice lead to hatred and it is here that the problems that continue to afflict humankind take root. Such things need to be eradicated throughout society. For once, sports must not be allowed to exist in a bubble.
Having read Sports Illustrated, we believe that if anyone can make significant progress on this front, it’s Jason. Here at OM®, we’d like to commend his courage and endorse his opinions. It might be difficult, but we think he’ll find that the road isn’t anything like as lonely as he might be expecting. For tolerance, acceptance and understanding, we’ll march for as long as it takes.