The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 4, 2013

True measures of courage

By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — NBA journeyman Jason Collins made nationwide news this past week that transcended the sports world when he announced, via a first-person article in Sports Illustrated, he was gay. The news was met with cheers from most corners, heaping praise upon him for his “courage” in “coming out.”  Sports media and non-sports media alike lauded him as a groundbreaker for being the first active American male athlete in a team sport to openly state he is gay.

His declaration even led to a congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama who praised Collins for his “courage,” a word that seems to have become less and less meaningful as it gets casually bandied about. While it may have been a tough decision, did it really demonstrate courage and deserve a personal phone call from the President? Debatable.

Cynics may take a different view. After all, here was Collins, a well-traveled NBA player who never really has distinguished himself, but the Stanford product has done enough to have an 11-year career, even if it has been less than stellar. He has averaged 3.6 points per game in his career, but averaged only 1.1 points per game while appearing only in 38 contests this past season, averaging 10.1 minutes per game for the Washington Wizards. The 7-foot center, who was a first-round draft pick of the Houston Rockets in 2001, also has not exactly been a rebounding machine, averaging a paltry 3.8 rebounds per game over his career and pulled down only 1.6 boards per game this season.

Collins’ big claim to fame, before this past week, was that he shut down the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard in the 2011 playoffs as a member of the Atlanta Hawks. It was a brief, shining moment in a rather mundane career. He currently is without a team as the Wizards have elected to not bring him back.

Is Collins’ recent announcement an attempt to keep himself relevant and keep a flagging career active? Again, cynics could make that case, but it would seem to be a tough way to make news.

But while politicians and the politically correct crowd rush to crown Collins as some kind of new Captain Courageous, what of those who have demonstrated significant courage who will never receive a presidential phone call because they don’t represent a PC-protected group or their cause is not politically chic?

Just this past week, army Sgt. First Class Greg Robinson became the first-ever amputee to successfully complete the grueling 10-day Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, Ky. Robinson, who lost a leg in 2006 in Afghanistan, even broke his prosthetic leg several times as he completed the school. Despite his obvious handicap, the standards never were lowered and he nailed it. There was no presidential phone call congratulating him.

Closer to home, last week we highlighted the story of Trevin Ray, a 24-year-old organ transplant recipient from Enid who won a gold medal in golf at the Transplant Games of America and now is headed to the World Transplant Games. His struggle has certainly been courageous, but no presidential phone call will be coming his way.

On the scale of courage, Collins’ announcement pales in comparison to the accomplishments of Robinson and Ray. Let’s keep it in perspective and not cheapen the real measure and meaning of courage.

Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at