Jason Collins receives support and slander for being the first openly gay athlete in team sports.
Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards recently admitted he was gay in a Sports Illustrated interview. Since then, there has been a firestorm of information both accurate and inaccurate all over the front pages of the media.
Collins of the Washington Wizards has played backup center in the National Basketball Association for the past dozen years. Collins attended Stanford University where he was an All-American in 2000–01, he was then selected in the first round and 18th overall in the 2001 NBA Draft. He is now the first active openly gay athlete playing a professional team sport in North America.
According to Allan Barra of The Atlantic, Jason Collins wasn’t the first openly gay man in a major pro sports; he claims “Major-league baseball player Glenn Burke was comfortably out to his teammates and friends in 1976—but back then, it was the press that wasn’t ready for a gay male athlete.” Burke played from 1976 -1979. It’s been a long time since then, but unlike Burke, Jason Collins came out publicly, not only to his teammates.
NFL player Leroy Butler, who played for the Green Bay Packers was among the first athletes to congratulate Collins via Twitter for his bravery, but was soon told he could no longer speak at a church event. Butler was told the church would cancel his presentation unless he removed the tweet, apologized and asked for God’s forgiveness. Butler stood his ground and tweeted “only God can judge.”
There have been several homophobic death threats to Collins on Twitter as well, following his interview with Sports Illustrated. Collins has not retaliated, but thanked his supporters. NBA great Kobe Bryant expressed his support in addition to President Bill Clinton, President Obama and First Lady Michelle. Collins also received support from his current and former team, The Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics.
On the hand, several other professional athletes have been expressed their personal strife with Collins such as NFL players Mike Wallace and Alphonso Smith who along with retired NBA player Larry Johnson of the New York Knicks appeared to take the news with difficulty.
Messages ranging from personal opinion disapproving of Collins sexuality as well as sharing a locker room with Collins have been floating around Twitter. Some have been deleted but Alphonso Smith tweeted “It’s a shame I have to apologize for my TRUE feelings.”
Howard Kurtz, reporter for the Daily Beast, resigned after accusing Collins of not explaining that he had an eight year relationship with a woman and was engaged for a time. Kurtz said “If you leave out the fact that you dated this woman for eight years, and you were engaged to be married, then you have not told the whole story. I think this really muddies the plot line here.”
The Daily Beast admitted that Kurtz’s piece contained several errors “resulting in a misleading characterization” of Collins. It said it “sincerely regrets Kurtz’s error — and any implication that Collins attempted to hide or obscure the engagement.”
On the positive side, in a brief discussion with an anonymous ESPN staffer, the news of Collins has been well received and Collins is respected for his courage in such a competitive field knowing that this information could end his career and friendships.
Collins could land important endorsements and become a role model for other gay professional athletes that are afraid to let their teammates and their fans know about their sexuality. Currently his only endorsement is from Nike, it could grow, but it’s not a slam dunk.
Personally, I’m happy for Collins. Living a lie that could cost him his career and friends if it were found out is no easy task. Everyone should be entitled to live an honest life and not be subject to ridicule on a mass level. I congratulate Collins myself and wish him all the best in every area he pursues in his lifetime.