When Did Heroes Become Universally Defined?

Jason CollinsJason Collins is a hero … to someone.

By now you’d have to have had your head buried 3-feet in the sand not to have heard NBA veteran Jason Collins’ declaration that he is gay.  This week’s Sports Illustrated is headlined by Collins’ announcement and by doing so, the 34-year-old center has again started a conversation likely to bring out the best and worst our society has to offer.  Since I first became aware of this, at roughly 10 AM yesterday morning, I’ve heard comments for and against him, applauding and degrading who he is, and people questioning the nobility of his actions, along with the motives behind them.  While not the first professional athlete to “come out,” – retired NBA player John Amaechi, Olympic diver Greg Louganis, Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas, and University of Portland and U.S. National Soccer Team star Megan Rapinoe are a few of the prominent athletes to have done so – he’s the first in any of America’s “Big 4” sports to have done so while still active in his profession.  Sure, Collins is a free agent who by all accounts is in the waning years of a relatively nondescript career, but if signed prior to next season, he’ll be the first American sports player to navigate a professional locker room while wearing his homosexuality on his sleeve.  And call it what you will, but that takes some bravery.

This is where things have approached befuddlement for yours truly.  Upon hearing Collins’ announcement, I monitored various forms of media in an effort to gauge the reaction of the masses.  Personally, I’ve been unaffected by what I heard.  I knew this day was coming and aren’t in anyway offended by another person’s preference regarding sexuality.  It’s their life, let them live it.  However, not everyone is on my page and many have taken offense to the assertion that Collins’ actions are heroic.

Shortly following the news “hitting the stands,” opinions ran rampant and admiration for his ability to put himself “out there” frequented mainstream and social mediums abound.  Yet, with those heroic assertions came rebuttals regarding the definition of a hero and who qualifies as such.

“Our soldiers and first responders, those are heroes.”

“What he did is not heroic!”

“Bravery doesn’t automatically translate to heroism.”

I saw or heard all of the aforementioned statements yesterday afternoon and found each to be accurate – to an extent – and comedic at the same time.  Yes, our soldiers and first responders are often heroic and bravery doesn’t always translate to heroism.  But to the contrary, not all soldiers and first responders act heroically all the time and bravery is a necessary ingredient to heroic actions.  While Jason Collins’ pronouncement may mean little to you or I, to someone struggling with the homosexual oppression found in many of the unfortunate corners of our society, it may very well empower them to find peace with their being.

It’s absurd to suggest that an alpha-male, outing himself in an alpha-male environment like professional sports isn’t brave, and for a player like Collins to do so in spite of a history’s worth of negativity regarding it, has to offer comfort for a young man or woman struggling with a similar scenario. You or I might not deem him our hero, but for that young man or woman … heroic is likely apropos.

Heroes are subjective.  Eric Dickerson was one of my heroes growing up; you may not know who he is.  If my parents are my heroes, they’re likely not yours.  And if a homosexual man or woman confined by his or her fears of society’s views of them, discovers a heightened sense of worth due to the acceptance of a notable figures similar internal struggles, they’ll likely look at that person differently than someone who can’t relate.  Jason Collins isn’t your hero?  Fine, but to someone he likely is. 

That’s not a problem for them, so why is anyone making it theirs?

About Arran Gimba