Professional sports has finally caught up with the rest of the entertainment industry.
Jason Collins, a well-traveled center who most recently played basketball for the NBA’s Washington Wizards, announced this week that he is a homosexual.
He is being hailed as a pioneer on the order of Jackie Robinson, who smashed the color barrier in big-league baseball.
I don’t know that I’d go that far. Robinson was the first black player in a lily white game that, in the 1940s, was the most popular sport in the country.
Collins is the first currently active male athlete in an American professional team sport to declare himself gay, a move that undoubtedly took courage.
But Jackie Robinson was risking his life, and that of his family, by donning the uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He broke the color barrier in a time when racism was not only the rule, but the law, in much of the nation. The Ku Klux Klan was an active part of life in much of America in 1947, particularly in the deep South, and segregation was rampant.
Female athletes in both individual and team sports have been coming out for decades, a trail blazed more than 30 years ago by tennis greats Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. More recently, Brittany Griner, former Baylor basketball star and the top choice in the recent WNBA draft, announced she was gay.
Don’t expect a flood of male pro athletes to suddenly step before the microphone and declare themselves gay. If anything, it will be more like a trickle. But there are gay athletes in NFL, NBA, NHL, PGA and Major League Baseball locker rooms, and there have been for years. They simply choose to hide the fact.
Former NBA center John Amaechi came out in 2007, but only after his retirement. Likewise, ex-pro football player Esera Tuaolo.
Actually Collins’ career likewise may be at an end, and it has nothing whatever to do with his sexuality. He is 34 and has been in the league for 12 years, playing with six NBA teams, and he is a free agent. His playing future is very much up in the air. NBA journeymen have a short shelf life.
The real breakthrough for gay male athletes will come when a star player comes out, the face of a franchise, an all-pro, an icon at the pinnacle of his career, a hero.
Then professional athletics will truly catch up with the rest of the entertainment industry, in which being gay is not a factor.
If it was, how could an openly gay actor, Neil Patrick Harris, be cast as the lecherous, skirt-chasing womanizer, and be so believable in the role of Barney in “How I Met Your Mother,” the popular CBS sitcom?
Ellen Degeneres is a funny and engaging comedienne and talk show host, Elton John is a superstar entertainer and rock legend, Anderson Cooper is an insightful broadcast journalist and Ian McKellen a gifted actor best known as the other-worldly Gandalf in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. All are gay.
So why can’t professional athletes be gay and still be entertaining to watch? No reason.
You don’t have to like the fact Jason Collins came out, or Griner, or Degeneres, or any of the rest. That is your business. You can refuse to watch Cooper on CNN, or to listen to Elton on the radio, or watch Collins play, assuming he lands an NBA contract for next season.
To my way of thinking, someone’s sexual orientation is their own business. It’s not the public’s place to judge.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.