Nithin Kuchibhotla: It’s not often that a story about an athlete supersedes the sport itself. Even less common is it for that athlete to be playing for one of the more irrelevant franchises in the landscape, the Washington Wizards. But Jason Collins’ historic announcement that he is gay isn’t about the Wizards, or the NBA, or even professional sports. Yes, he is the first active male player to come out of the closet, and yes, because he last played for DC’s basketball team, we at WizofAwes are quick to cover the story. But just like Jackie Robinson and Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali’s pursuits benefitted others far beyond the realm of their respective arenas, Collins’ actions yesterday accomplish the same goal. He stands tall for all those who follow the ‘road less traveled’, as he put it. And he represents hope for the people who struggle with the decision of being honest with family and friends, but instead carry that burden individually. And he offered a hand to the ones who have a perceived fear of the way society will treat them (we’ve seen this turn negative, especially with the LBGT community. So at times it’s not a perceived fear but rather a realistic one). It’s not easy to be the one to raise your hand and say you’re different, as Collins mentioned. Whether it’s a byproduct of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, being as a minority will always have its specific challenges. We as a country have made great strides in our history to becoming one of the most diverse nations in the world, and incorporating people from all walks of life. This is a barrier, unlike most others, that remains standing. But the cracks are starting to show and that’s the first step to knocking it down. Jason Collins is paramount because his statement was the first of its kind. It wasn’t a heroic act in the classical sense of the word, given all the true heroism we see from our military, firefighters, police officers, etc. But in a way, he may be a hero for a lot of people out there who are looking to one day find that inner peace that he may now have.
There’s been a lot of talk of when this day would come in sports. Retired athletes, such as John Amaechi have come out. Female athletes, such as Martina Navratilova have come out. Even active European league athletes, such as Robbie Rogers have come out. But not one current player from the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL has made this fact about themselves known. There’s of course been a lot of conversation of when that might take place, with most people assuming it would be in the near future. Brendon Ayanbadejo, an NFL linebacker who is an outspoken proponent of gay rights stated that the league is working with a few players interested in making this announcement. I was always curious of what the reaction would be around the country when that shoe did finally drop. And judging by the support Collins received yesterday, I think it’s safe to say that it has been overwhelmingly positive. The detractors will always remain without fail. But the numbers who are commending the action is growing, and that is an unmistakable sign towards getting to a better place.
Despite everyone’s well wishes and the warm attention yesterday’s story attracted, there are several questions left to be answered after Collins’ announcement. How would the league and fans react if this wasn’t an end of the bench player and in fact an NBA superstar? How about if he wasn’t inching towards retirement and wouldn’t make a roster next season regardless? Would this be viewed differently by other players in a different league that may be more/less accepting? Maybe these questions get answered one day, or maybe they don’t. But at least for here and now, a player stepped up and did what no one else had done. I’m happy for him, and the good it will do for others. The goal as a civilization is always progress, and we’re one step closer.