When NBA center Jason Collins announced he was gay, I wondered whether his decision to speak up would encourage other gay athletes in major team sports to speak up or bolt the door even tighter.

It didn’t take long for some in the blogosphere to say that the 34-year-old free agent’s announcement might make that work status permanent.

Within a couple of hours, the Miami Dolphins’ Mike Wallace tweeted, “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH (shakin’ my head) …”

Wallace later deleted the tweet and apologized if he offended anyone. The Dolphins organization also repudiated the remarks.

“It’s now clear that tolerance has become a monetary [issue]: Intolerant and you run the risk of people not coming to see your team play. Translation: Owners need to squash that [shiggedy] immediately,” said Michael Andre Adams, a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

It’s not that the 7-foot, 255 pound Collins is the first athlete to announce he is gay, just the first active-player in a major professional sport to do so.
The 34-year-old Collins appeared in 32 games this season for the Boston Celtics and also played for the Washington Wizards this season.

“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 in an article for Sports Illustrated, due to hit stands May 6. “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.”

Some activities – ice skating and dance for example – seem to be safe for gay men. But Sports? Sports with a capital ‘S’ and all the macho intent behind it has never been the place where it has been safe to admit to being anything other than an aggressive, woman-chasing he-man.

It starts with youth league sports, when coaches often tell boys they play “like a girl” or drop the other f-bomb when criticizing what they see as the team’s lack of effort. In turn, boys learn to, at best, hide interest in anything that is deemed “gay” and, at worst, publicly denigrate it.

Dance, for example, requires athletic performance and strength to carry ballerinas who look small and fragile, but are packed with muscle and heavy to lift. But somewhere along the way, it picked up a reputation for being “soft.”

“When people poke fun at dancers I tend to take it personal because I was once a dancer and got the same treatment. Fortunately, I ignore such things and stand up for others who are in the dance industry,” said Jawaan Bivins, who is now a substitute teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
“Sometimes the older kids will bully teachers they believe are gay into a corner until they crack and some teachers ignore the rumors and keep it moving,” Bivins said.

“The kids tend to ask at all of the inappropriate times. (I) had that happen last week while waiting for the kids to be dismissed from lunch. One student asked me in front of 120 students. My response was ‘What’s your point?’”

Adams said for black folks, who already feel put upon because of race, coming out of the closet is simply a double whammy.

“We’ve had enough. First of all, we’re black,” Adams said. “When you do something bold and daring like [coming out] you have to deal with a lot of stuff… You’re already seen as not equal.”

While Collins is the first active player to come out, neither he nor former players who announced their orientation after their playing days were over, have the super-star stature of a LeBron or a Kobe.

Might they now be emboldened to come forward?

“They probably are going to wait and see how people treat Collins,” Adams said, noting that society has become more tolerant of gay rights issues and that sports is now the perfect arena to shoot down intolerance and hypocrisy.

He also took to task ESPN analyst Chris Broussard, who has said in the past that he believed the NBA was ready for an openly gay player, but more recently that some non-gay athletes might be uncomfortable showering alongside a gay teammate.

But he also said he believed that homosexuality was a sin and “walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.”

“I hear these people talking about, ‘According to the Bible’ it is wrong; but what about guys and sports?” Adams said, referring to Broussard’s remarks. “C’mon. These guys are major ho’s. Are you aware of scriptures about fornication? That’s never mentioned in this conversation.”

So the debate has begun, but for Jason Collins the conversation can be held out loud.

(Photo: AP)

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