I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay. I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation.
We’ll know we’ve made progress when an athlete announces they're gay and the public reaction is a collective yawn. Judging by the media feeding frenzy generated by Jason Collins’ coming out, we’re clearly not there yet. The good news is that we’re a whole lot closer than we were just a few short years ago. Except for a few knuckleheads like ESPN’s Chris Broussard, the sports world- and society in general- appears willing and able to accept a gay athlete.
What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a teachable moment.
We should admire Collins- just as we should also admire Brittney Griner, who came out as a lesbian a few weeks ago. You might not have been aware of Griner’s coming out, because it didn’t spark the mediagasm Collins’ announcement ignited. Both Collins and Griner have demonstrated the courage to be true to who they are. In doing so, they’ve shown that whom you love has nothing to do with what happens between the lines. They didn’t set out to champion a cause, but each in their own way has. The courage that requires mustn’t be underestimated, but it should be celebrated.
This is where our opportunity arises. People who believed that homosexuality was sinful, vile, and yucky raised many of us. They knew little to nothing of homosexuality; few even knew anyone who identified as gay or lesbian. They just knew it was wrong, because … well, that’s what they’d been taught.
Despite this, many of us evolved beyond that ignorance and fear. We came to understand that people are far more than their sexuality. Now we have a chance to teach our children that what matters between the lines (or anywhere else in life) isn’t what you are, what you believe, or whom you love. It’s what you do. Jason Collins’ sexuality makes him no less aggressive under the boards. Brittney Griner’s sexuality doesn’t diminish her superlative skills. The knowledge of whom and how they love doesn’t make it any easier to take them out of their game. When they’re between the lines, it’s not about their sexuality. It’s about doing whatever it takes to help their team win.
We can teach our children that the beauty of humanity lies in the reality that not everyone is or should be like us. The diversity of the human race is what makes our world richer and more interesting. It’s what helps us to be better together than we are as separate, unattached individuals. Our differences can unite us … if we allow them to.
Hatred and discrimination diminish us all … but the important thing to understand is that those are learned behaviors. This means we can change how we view the world and those who populate it, and we can teach our children to do the same.
Sports are a great way to bring people of diverse backgrounds together. They’re also a tremendous teaching tool, a way to teach children respect, tolerance, and understanding. The lesson of sports is that a person’s ability and the content of their character are more important than whom they choose to love.
Someday an athlete will come out of the closet and no one will notice. THAT will be a great day for humanity; I hope we’ll see it in our lifetime.
Jack Cluth is on Twitter. Follow him at @yuppieskum