A lot of people probably didn’t know about Jason Collins before this week. I’ll be honest. I was one of them. Although, you can’t blame us – there are just way too many athletes out there for a busy girl who can’t always follow sports in the first place. I will concede that I’m especially embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t familiar with Collins because I happen to consider myself a serious Celtics fan and Collins spent half of this season playing with my favorite Boston sports team (I’ve been busy, okay?).
Collins just ended the season with the Washington Wizards, but soon he will be a free agent. However the label he’s most-recently and publicly given himself is not related to his talent as a basketball player, but to his sexuality. As Collins wrote in Sports Illustrated, he is 34, he is black and he is gay.
So, for those of us unfamiliar with Jason Collins, why does this matter? This matters because Jason Collins is the first professional athlete to publicly address his homosexuality. This matters because male professional sports teams — like football, baseball, hockey and basketball — seem to cultivate a culture in which homosexuality is looked down upon. Which is crazy. Because I really don’t understand how someone’s sexual preference has anything to do with his or her athletic skills. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.)
This matters because now other athletes may feel empowered to come out as themselves – gay, straight, whoever – Collin’s deliberation should encourage anyone else struggling, to be true to themselves. This matters because he is the first, and that means there will be more to come. Not only will more and more athletes and public figures continue to come out of the closet, but some individuals might feel bolstered to do so as well. Jason Collins has reminded us all that it is important and good to be true to yourself.
But also, this matters because it shouldn’t matter.
What do I mean by “this shouldn’t matter?” I guess just that someday it won’t matter, because this is a bigger issue — it’s an issue of equality and civil rights. Just the same way it doesn’t matter now that Collins is African-American, when in previous decades the color of a player’s skin could be just as controversial as his sexuality is today. I do believe that someday we’ll be the kind of open and progressive society we claim we strive for.
But also, this shouldn’t matter because basketball isn’t about who people love. Basketball is about people who love basketball.
For example, I don’t watch basketball for the personal stories of the players. I watch it for the fun, for the connection to my family and friends back home, for the spirited togetherness and camaraderie of a fan community. Sure, I know bits and pieces about the players I root for, but what matters is how they play the game, the magic of the live competition, the brilliance of a team working in motion – not who they come home to at night.
But that’s just me and I’m one of many different perspectives. And that’s why Jason Collins’ very public statement is so cool. He’s setting a new precedent, and delivering an incredible message about individuality, one in which he’s not letting public perception define him from the outside in, but in which he’s letting his personal perspective dictate his self-identity from the inside out. Now, he’s truly himself and true to himself, through and through. It’s where we all should be.
Image of Jason Collins via CelticsLife.com