Prior to Monday’s announcement, Jason Collins was a 34-year-old free agent.
Despite only averaging 3.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 20 minutes per game in his 11-year career, the backup center was known for his hard nose defense, battling the likes of Dwight Howard and other basketball big men.
While Collins may never receive most valuable player honors or be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and even as his future in the NBA is a dubious one, the 7-foot player from Stanford can claim one distinct honor. He was the first active player in any of the four major sports to come out as an openly gay athlete.
Collins’ historic move has once again opened a dialogue about what is acceptable dissension and what is homophobic and derogatory when talking about sexual orientation, particularly in news, sports and entertainment.
In the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated, Collins tells the sports world: “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,” Collins wrote. “I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
Since his announcement, Collins has been heralded as an example for many athletes to follow, both now and in the future.
“It’s another really important milestone moment,” Monica Trasandes, director of Spanish Language Media for GLAAD said.
“He sets an example for so many people who are not gay and don’t know gay people or, at the very least, think they don’t know anyone who is gay. He revealed that a lot of us still can’t come out because of the fear that we may lose our jobs or our families,” Trasandes told VOXXI.
Gay rights organizations, fellow athletes and even President Barack Obama have lauded this step. NBA analyst Tim Legler said: “The time has come. This is long overdue.”
With the outpouring support also came sharp criticism. Mike Wallace, of the Miami Dolphins, lashed out against Collins’ announcement via Twitter. Chris Broussard, NBA analyst, was quick to speak his mind on Monday when he said, on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines”: “I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality,” adding: “I think it is a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.”
Broussard quickly clarified his position when he came under attack. The sports analyst released a statement saying in part: “I offered my personal opinion as it relates to Christianity, a point of view that I have expressed publicly before,” he said.
“I believe Jason Collins displayed bravery with his announcement today and I have no objection to him or anyone else playing in the NBA,” Broussard added.
As the view on sexual orientation and gay marriage shifts toward a more tolerant one, there are those who fear that views such as the ones shared by Broussard will no longer be welcomed in public discussion. This begs the question: Where does one draw the line between inappropriate behavior and disagreeing without being disagreeable?
‘Important’ to protect both Chris Broussard and Jason Collins’ freedom of speech
While actions such as that of shortstop Yunel Escobar—who, last season, served a three-game suspension after he took to the field wearing eye black that carried a loaded homophobic slur, “Tu ere(s) un Maricón”—are obvious outliers, some conservatives fear that with growing tolerance, views based on faith and personal beliefs will be shunned as antediluvian and ignorant.
“To me, it is as important to protect Chris Broussard’s expression of faith as it is to protect Jason Collins’ expression of sexuality. There is an imbalance in our society when it comes to freedom of expression. Ironically, we embrace intolerance of religious expression because we find it intolerant. This is a shame,” Andrew Clark, a Washington, D.C., political consultant, told VOXXI.
“I look at this episode and am reminded that when A.C. Green, Tim Tebow or Lolo Jones came out as virgins they were ridiculed in public. When Jason Collins comes out as gay, he’s a hero. In both cases, we have sexual behavior that is none of our business. In one instance we have praise while, in the other, we have scorn,” Clark added.
For Arizona radio talk show host Steve Sanchez, any repercussion against Broussard or others who present a sound disagreement against same-sex marriage or homosexuality presents a double standard.
“…Liberals are always screaming about choice but when a conservative chooses a belief or ideology then they scream.” Sanchez said. “Why is it when someone of celebrity or influence comes out and says he or she is gay the media applauds their courage but if someone of the same celebrity or influence says they are Christian they are thrown under the bus?”
Echoing that message, basketball hall of famer Charles Barkley offered a diplomatic opinion during Monday’s “Inside the NBA” on TNT.
“People should be able to disagree if they don’t like it, and not get crucified,” he said.
Trasandes said discussion and dissension will always be welcome, so long as it’s respectable. She did add that the stakes change, however, when celebrities and influential people make their views public.
“I think people will continue to express themselves, but the difference now is, when you speak against a particular group, you are going to hear about it,” she told VOXXI. “That’s the new thing. Before, we used to just sit quietly and take it, but we don’t stay quiet anymore.”