Jason Collins becomes 1st openly-gay athlete in major American sports

Jason Collins, of the Washington Wizards NBA team, just came out as gay.

Just as interesting, he’s African-American (and yes, that’s important too).

There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether any men were ever going to come out in professional American sports, at least for the major leagues: basketball (NBA); football (NFL); hockey (NHL), or major league baseball (MLB).

And it’s finally happened with Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards, who comes out in a piece in Sports Illustrated.

Jason Collins comes out

It’s nice to see a lot of public support today for Collins, from members of Congress, fellow basketball players like Kobe Bryant (though not all), and even the White House.  Though some others at ESPN, and the Miami Dolphins, were less than pleased.

There’s really been a groundswell of pro-gay support of late in professional American sports, especially football.  NFL players Brendon Ayanbadejo, a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens, and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe have taken the lead in fighting homophobia not just in sports, but also national gay rights issues like gay marriage, which Ayanbadejo used the Super Bowl to promote.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.

Then there’s Chris Kluwe, who wrote a hilariously visceral letter to an anti-gay bigot Marland state legislator a while back.

NFLer Chris Kluwe on the Ed Show.

NFLer Chris Kluwe on the Ed Show.

Collins coming out matters not just because there are no openly-gay men in major American sports (until now), but also because of some of the open homophobia we’ve seen in sports even just recently.  It was only three months ago that the San Francisco 49ers’ Chris Culliver said there were no gay people in American football, and if there were, they should get out.

The 49ers’ response was typically anemic, and indicative of the challenge gay athletes face in professional sports.  While the 49ers suspended a player the month before for mouthing off about the team management, mouthing off about the teams’ minorities – and minorities nationwide – apparently doesn’t strike the 49er’s management as nearly as offensive.

And it was only six years ago that Mars & Mars thought it would be funny to run an anti-gay Super Bowl ad showing some men beating the cr*p out of each other because they thought they might be gay.  It was only after we, and TowleRoad, beat the cr*p out of Mars & Mars that the company finally relented and pulled the ad.

But you don’t need to go back six years.  Just last month, a NFL prospect says he was asked by a recruiter for a major team if he “likes girls.”  (And it’s not like we heard a lot of follow-up from the NFL on that one, either.)

Washington Wizards' Jason Collins, courtesy of the NBA.

Washington Wizards’ Jason Collins, courtesy of the NBA.

And finally, a word about Jason Colins being black.  I’ll leave it to the African-American gay bloggers to better explain the unique challenges they face coming out as gay in the black community. But Titania Kumeh at Mother Jones noted something interesting in her story, “Is Being Gay A White, European Thing?”:

It’s a claim I’ve heard before from some black people, my own family included. The rumor has it that being gay is a white inclination that’s seeped its way into the black experience via colonialization. It’s largely based on the misconception that gay people don’t exist in African history. And it’s comparable to the claims made by some conservatives that gay rights, specifically gay marriage, is a fad not rooted in “traditional values” or espoused by any society in history. Which is just plain false.

The religious right has tried to take advantage of the black community’s sometimes-discomfort with all-things-gay by attempting to sow the seeds of a race war, as we found out in secret documents that were only recently uncovered.  And all of that only makes it harder for African-American gays to come out – so Jason Collins’ revelation helps them immeasurably.

Before you go, you really should check out Ayanbadejo on CNN talking about gay marriage.  I have not seen a more articulate spokesman for our cause, even among those who are paid, and trained, to do this kind of advocacy:

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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