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?’”