Jason Collins became the first active, male, U.S. athlete playing a major, professional, team-sport to come out as being homosexual this week. Those qualifying adjectives deserve a little more explanation. There have already been openly homosexual athletes who met each single qualification, but only Collins satisfies all five at once.
Several female WNBA players, such as Brittney Griner and Sheryl Swoopes, are openly homosexual. However, as athletic women are often viewed as “tomboys” this did not make world-shattering news. Orlando Cruz is an openly gay boxer, and Greg Louganis is an openly gay U.S. Olympian gymnast with four Gold Medals under his belt. Esera Tuaolo used to play for the NFL, but he only became openly gay after his retirement.
So that, in a nutshell, is why Jason Collins’s coming out was so earth shaking that President Obama mentioned it as one of only eight topics addressed at a press conference today. It ranks up there with immigration reform and chemical weapons in Syria, but above the national internet sales tax. Despite the somewhat overblown reaction, there is good reason why this story has captured the nation’s eye.
The real reason why this event has made the headlines is twofold. First of all, the recent Supreme Court arguments on same-sex marriage have drawn the Nation’s attention to the issue. In fact, Collins lists that very event as one of the reason he is coming out now (in addition to being a free agent). This story is intended to influence public opinion and raise new questions in the national debate.
The other reason is that Collins so embodies the physical/masculine ideal of male sports in America. He is a big center who is not afraid to give fouls and tussle with the likes of Shaq. He is willing to take a charge for his team. He is extremely successful. This calls into question assumptions that heterosexuality is an integral part of manliness. Apparently, you can be both manly and gay.
Sports Illustrated, Why NBA Center Jason Collins Is Coming out Now: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/news/20130429/jason-collins-gay-nba-player/
The Atlantic, Why Jason Collins’s Coming Out is Such a Big Deal: http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/04/why-jason-collins-coming-out-is-such-a-big-deal/275383/
The American Civil Liberties Union, Non-Discrimination Laws: http://www.aclu.org/maps/non-discrimination-laws-state-state-information-map
Legal Dictionary, Club: http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Private+club
Pew Research, Four-in-Ten Americans Have Close Friends or Relatives Who are Gay: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2007/05/23/four-in-ten-americans-have-close-friends-or-relatives-who-are-gay/
PBS, Milestones in the American Gay Rights Movement: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/timeline/stonewall/