ENID, Okla. —
It has finally happened. An openly gay athlete has played a major American professional sport.
In case you missed it (and if you did you must have been high in the Andes seeking spiritual enlightenment for the past couple of days), journeyman NBA center Jason Collins, who came out last year in a Sports Illustrated interview, signed with, and played for, the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday.
Thus the sexual orientation line has been broken.
Now let’s drop it, shall we?
That won’t happen, of course. It seems once we in the mainscream media get hold of something we worry it like a dog with a well-loved bone.
The annual meat market that is the NFL Scouting Combine concludes today in Indianapolis. Sexual orientation became top of mind for the NFL because of Michael Sam, a 6-foot-2, 256-pound defensive end out of Missouri who hopes to become a high draft choice this spring.
Oh, yeah, and he just happens to be gay.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Now it has. Let’s move on, shall we?
Professional athletics is entertainment, pure and simple. We don’t seem to worry too much about the sexual orientation of entertainers in other genres, why should sport be any different?
For example, one of the most popular shows on network television today is “How I Met Your Mother.” One of that show’s beloved characters is the eccentric womanizing playboy Barney Stinson, played by talented actor Neil Patrick Harris — who is gay.
Does that make viewers love the show any less? Not given the fact the show is consistently near the top of the ratings chart.
The point is, it doesn’t matter whether or not Harris is gay, only that he is a good enough actor to make us believe he isn’t.
It doesn’t matter whether Collins or Sam or any other professional athletes are gay, just whether they can do the job on the court or on the field.
The Nets signed Collins not because they wanted to make a statement, but because they needed a bruising, defensive-minded big man inside as they seek to make a playoff run.
Whatever NFL team winds up drafting Sam will not do so to make some sort of statement, or to shatter any barriers, but to get a strong pass rusher and run stopper.
If their teammates are uncomfortable with Sam’s or Collins’ sexuality, that is something they will have to deal with. Sam’s mates at Missouri apparently already knew he was gay, and seemed to deal with it just fine.
Undoubtedly, Collins’ appearance for the Nets was a watershed moment for both the league and the LGBT community. But to compare it to Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color line in baseball is absurd. Collins and Sam could have, if they so chose, hidden their sexual orientation throughout their careers. Robinson could not hide the color of his skin, nor did he want to.
Good for Collins and Sam for choosing to not hide their sexuality. It is a reflection of the world today. In the past, entertainers would keep their homosexuality a secret to avoid being ostracized by movie studios and fans alike. A prime example is long-ago leading man Rock Hudson.
Collins can’t worry about the impact his sexuality has on the landscape of major professional sports in this country. With a 10-day contract, he’s on a short leash — he must produce now or he will achieve another first, becoming the first openly gay NBA player ever cut by his team.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.