Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 at 1:36 pm  |  40 responses

The Importance of Jason Collins

SLAM’s former Ed. weighs in on yesterday’s big news.

by Farmer Jones / @thefarmerjones

It’s staggering how quickly all this has changed.

We didn’t have Twitter to take the pulse of reaction six years ago when John Amaechi came out, but if we had, the tone sure as hell would’ve been different than it was Monday afternoon. Those of us with an opinion and a place to share it at the time—the civilized, generally progressive folks who make up what I now think of as the heart of Basketball Twitter—were largely supportive of Amaechi, but there was plenty of flack, as well.

He wasn’t very good so who cares. Well…

He’s just trying to sell a book. Partly true, but missed the point.

If he really wanted to change things, he would’ve come out while he was still in the League. Yeah. Easy for us to say.

So yes, it’s staggering how quickly, and how drastically, all this has changed. Jason Collins came out on Monday, and while there was plenty of predictable bile spewed in Twitter’s knuckle-dragging subterranean realm, those of us with a recognized voice and audience—no matter your follower count—were in near-universal agreement. A brave, important step. Inspirational. Good for him.

It was telling, of course, that the pitiable talking head (who I swear was a pretty good newspaper reporter in a previous life) and the decrepit play-by-play guy who spoke out against Collins’ announcement came off as outliers, ignorant savages among the civilized. This is how progress works: Voices that were once mainstream (and of course they’re still closer to the mainstream than most of us would like to admit) are always just a few steps away from being revealed as the dinosaurs they are. Progress took another of those steps yesterday. It was a good day.

I’m not sure how much this particular step will matter. As much as things have changed, it’s an odd coincidence that the guy to follow Amaechi—to be willing and able to take it that one step further, and do this while still (probably) an NBA player—is another middling big man. No doubt, there were some gay high school ballplayers yesterday—maybe a few, maybe a few thousand—who read about Collins’ announcement and were truly strengthened and inspired.

The importance of that can’t—truly, cannot—be underestimated.

But I’m thinking more about the straight kids, the young basketball players and fans who, if they know Jason Collins at all, know him as a little-used big man who played for two teams last season and averaged about a point a game. Those kids’ personal judgment meters won’t likely be moved by the knowledge that Jason Collins is gay; if they’re already ignorant or intolerant, this news won’t change anything.

I trust it’s obvious that I’m in no way criticizing Collins or his decision. But I am thinking of Jackie Robinson, who we remember less for breaking the color barrier than for being an amazing baseball player who broke the color barrier. Again, this is nothing against Collins, but as I’ve said before, I’m hoping for gay LeBron—not for LeBron to be gay, but for someone of that caliber, or at least reasonably close to it, an All-Star, a great player that gay and straight kids alike try to emulate at the playground or in the gym.

Jason Collins isn’t that guy. That’s fine—it’s still a wonderful, significant step—but the bigger, more important step in the 24 hours or so since his story broke has been the collective response of Jason’s peers. Kobe Bryant, Baron Davis and Steve Nash were among the first on Twitter and elsewhere, and many others followed. The show of support almost felt like a compulsion for these guys, and that’s a good thing; the players we didn’t hear from, we’ll just have to give the benefit of the doubt.

The Miami Heat had a well-deserved day off Monday, and so we didn’t have a chance to hear from LeBron. Today we did: “I think it’s a strong thing to day, I think it’s cool.” This was a great response: few words, a sense that it’s no big deal, that it should be no big deal. Of course this is the goal, and today we’re closer to it. The more guys like LeBron treat it like it’s no big deal, the faster we’ll get there.

I like LeBron, and I only held it slightly against him in 2007 when he responded to the news of Amaechi’s coming out by questioning the bond of trust that a gay player would disrupt in the locker room. He was a 22-year-old kid who didn’t have the benefit of a formative college experience, and the words came from ignorance, not hate. Whether by gradual evolution or concerted effort, LeBron has matured, roughly on pace (I’d argue) with the society of which he is a very rich, very famous member.

So this, too, was progress. We need more, and so I’ll keep rooting for the emergence of a gay LeBron, or a gay Durant, a gay Adrian Peterson, a gay Leo Messi, a gay Mike Trout. (Sorry, I don’t know any hockey players.) In the meantime, I’ll defer to Amaechi, my old college classmate and the guy who, at least for a male athlete in a major American team sport, blazed this path.

“Received 100+ notes from people from Doha to Dallas saying how @jasoncollins34 makes them feel happier & more hopeful,” Amaechi tweeted Tuesday. “He’s the difference!”

We should all look forward to the day where it’ll make no difference at all.

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  • http://slamonline.com/ Ben Osborne

    Thank you Ryan!

  • TBRK

    I’d like to know what America should use as a compass to judge what is sexually moral or immoral. What should society consider ‘sin’? Or, should our society consider anything to be ‘sin’? Can any moral standard or compass be held and agreed upon universally…if not, does that mean society doesn’t need one? Is the morality any act, any lifestyle, perfectly subjective and justifiable as long as said acts do not violate the law?? …just wanted to hear some of you guys’ viewpoints

  • Pve_2

    As a supporter of Collins’ move, I think Charles Barkley put it best on his spot on game time. He argued that those who disagree or feel uncomfortable with Collins should NOT be crucified or pegged as ignorant because doing so stands in the way of progression.

    Collins came out at least in part to jump start a dialogue. Getting people confronting the reality of homosexuality in sports and exchanging ideas about it (be it supportive or not) is a starting point for change. Someone who condemns Collins isn’t liable to change their mind when they are being told they are ignorant.

    I don’t see anything wrong with what Boussard said. He is supporting his religious views the same way Collins is serving to further the aims of his views on sexuality–typically neither religion not sexuality are discussed at work, right? If Collins opened te door for discussion Boussard should be able to respond. note that he condemned almost every form of open sin according to Christian doctrine not just sexuality–at least from the blurb I read.

    Good write-up otherwise.

  • TBRK

    great comment! Agreed, homosexuals and homosexual supporters have absolutely every right to support Jason Collins. They have every right to support and express openly their lifestyle. Chris Broussard also has every express his openly….it doesn’t harm anyone, no?

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk


  • spit hot fiyah

    the question is: what is the law based on. if it is just a man made law that is not based on the Transcendent (like many ancient cultures) then it will never be universally agreed upon due to deviations. But if u say that it is not needed then that will lead to anarchy and might makes right, and also nihilism which will lead to a society were there is no sin and that would be destructive.

  • spit hot fiyah

    broussard’s comments about adultery and fornication probably wont get any publicity at all though unfortunately, it’s all about that he is against homosexuality based on his religious view. but he did state that any type of open sin (according to his faith) is something that he disagrees with

  • lights out

    what’s wrong w what broussard said is that he thinks he gets to judge somebody else’s life. if you support somebody, come out and say it, sure. but the way someone lives their life is not something other people get to approve or disapprove of.

  • spit hot fiyah

    how did he judge him? he said that according to his belief it was wrong, which he has a right to state if collins has a right to state that he thinks it is right. so if a person (for the sake argumentation) chooses to live their life by stealing and killing and slandering other people, u can’t disapprove of it?

  • lights out

    stating that something is wrong or right is by definition judging it, first of all. second, if your lifestyle affects others, that’s obviously different than something like this, since jason collins’s homosexual lifestyle has absolutely zero affect on chris broussard.

    i don’t think broussard is some nut job who thinks collins should be jailed or burned at the stake. he just has his opinions based on his interpretation of religious scripture. and that’s fine. but why say anything that’s not supportive? and i know someone will bring up freedom of speech, so let me just say this: maybe it is broussard’s right to express his disapproval. but can we all agree it’s just kind of douchey of him?

  • spit hot fiyah

    so u are a nihilist? u say we can’t judge and that if say something is either right or wrong then we have already judged. that means that everything is relative and there is no need to discuss anything since there are no absolutes. which is a contradiction in itself since stating that there are no absolutes is an absolute statement.

    in other words there are things that are right and wrong. and we can disagree on these. i just don’t see why it is “douchey” for a grown man to state what he believes in. like u said it’s not like he said that collins doesn’t deserve to exist. and only because somebody keeps something private is not proof that it doesn’t hurt others, it can do so indirectly, drug use is very good example of that.

  • Jeff

    Great read.

  • initbruv

    Broussard was insulting virtually the entire rest of the league along with Collins by saying that sex outside of marriage is a sin whether hetero or homo. People like that get a pass because naivete is something to pity, not be offended about.

  • lights out

    i believe everyone gets to choose for him/herself what is right and wrong and make their decisions based on that, so long as those decisions do not impose on others. murder imposes on others. drug use/production, as you mention, is a good example of something can impose on others in less obvious but still very real ways (shout out to Breaking Bad).

    one’s sexual orientation does not impose on others. not even close, and i won’t be convinced otherwise. that’s why it’s douchey for broussard to say what he said. he’s going out of his way to condemn someone else’s lifestyle when there’s absolutely no reason to.

  • initbruv

    Thank you Ryan for articulating what us pseudo-intellectual comment board-ers were trying to say all day yesterday.

  • Dagger

    You’re right, it doesn’t harm anyone to think that homosexuality will cause you to burn in hell for all time. Because that’s what Broussard and fundamentalists like him are saying, and that’s a big reason why homosexuality remains such a taboo in our society. It’s a big reason why some gay teens kill themselves while others are ostracized by their families; it’s a big reason why many homosexuals can’t marry like the rest of us, and it’s a big reason why people around the world face state-sanctioned persecution for their sexuality.

    Sure, Broussard is free to voice his opinions, but he’s also free to be criticized for it, because opinions like his are a source of tolerance and, ultimately, hate.

    And by the way: awesome article.

  • bike

    Nice piece man.

    I can’t help but wonder though, if the only progress that has been made is the people who object to gays are no longer voicing their opinion. Not only is it not cool to mock the gay lifestyle, it can buy someone a fifty-gallon drum of whoop-ass. So I guess that’s good.

    Or is it? If one of Collins objectives was to create a dialogue, should the people that have issues with the gay lifestyle simply be suppressed?

  • Dagger

    Believe it or not, religions have never been universally agreed upon. One would think this would be self-evident, but okay. And nihilism does not, at all, equate to secularism (or atheism, for that matter, which is not the same thing). The law is based on the collective will of the people, expressed through legislation drafted by the people’s representatives.

    The law does not necessarily reflect morality, which, by the way, has shifted historically even when tied to religious ideals (think of usury, for example). The law is not a reflection of a particular religious text, nor should it be even for die-hard Christians. It was Jesus, after all, who in the Bible first articulated the separation of church and state.

  • Kadavour

    great response. you should have gone for the jugular with your example though – slavery. that ought to make em queasy.

  • lights out

    a good perspective to take. respect.

  • initbruv

    Much obliged.

  • Dagger

    Absolutely. Definitely a better example!

  • house

    I don’t give a damn if someone is gay, and I don’t give a damn if someone isn’t gay. Having respect for others, and their choices, (in this case, their sexual orientation) is my bottom line. Homosexuality isn’t something that I am entirely comfortable about, but don’t label me as being homophobic because of it because I am not. I respect people who are gay and their sexual orientation cannot and will not sway me into alienating them, or being disrespectful towards them. However do not expect me to put them on a pedestal either.

  • ryanjones

    Thanks all.

  • ryanjones

    Great question. I’d argue that another part of progress convincing ignorant people to STFU. It’s not AS good as convincing people to change or open their minds, but it’s still got a value; the fewer ignorant people the next generation hears from (and the more the ignorant people are isolated as outliers), the fewer chances that next generation has to buy into the ignorance itself. At least I think that makes sense.

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  • Caboose

    Very well said, except for the bit about choice. It’s commendable you respect other’s choices (that’s amazing, btw), but this is not a choice.

  • Teddy-the-BEar

    Easy. If it’s a consentual decision between competent adult human beings, then it’s moral. That’s the only criteria. Consent and competence (which is why we have age of consent) is the only thing that matters. Competence meaning having the ability to make an autonomous decision (which includes mental competence as well).

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    You don’t change people’s conditions or attitudes just by having “dialogue” alone. I mean yes, you’ll change some people’s minds, but the vast majority of people aren’t swayed by dialogue; they are swayed by action. That is, you get the ball rolling and MAKE change, THEN people start falling in line.

    The problem with NOT suppressing bigots and people who carry out reactionary behavior, in order to “start a dialogue,” is that people take this to mean a compromise–i.e., we’ll hear you gay folks out, but we’re gonna have to come to some sort of middle ground on your attempts at equality.

    That is absolute bullsh!t, because people’s right not to be
    discriminated against is not something that should be negotiable, or debatable, or subject to compromise. These are people’s lives we’re dealing with. They shouldn’t have to live in fear or feel ashamed, or suffer disadvantages, just because some close-minded people aren’t “ready” to see gay people treated as equals. That’s their problem, not gay people’s.

    facing discrimination aren’t the ones who should be
    the ones compromising.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    wow that was weird… ignore that last line :/ .

  • spit hot fiyah

    i didn’t mean that a law based on religious values generates universals. more so that it sets a standard with foundation that is (by it’s followers) not seen as arbitrary. man made laws are in the end arbitrary. and i’m not a christian and don’t know why u seem to assume that i am, one of the reason i am not is for the fact that that religion has compromises with it’s own fundamental teachings and has been swayed by popular opinion in many cases, just like u said happens through out history.

  • spit hot fiyah

    there was a reason for him to speak his mind since he was asked about it as a part of his job.
    and if have already made up your mind that u won’t be convinced then there is no need to carry on the conversation. but i would definitely argue that for someone with broussard’s values, people being openly homosexual will have an impact on his life

  • spit hot fiyah

    nihilism will lead to atheism or agnosticism. if a person denies moral qualities in actions as absolute, the consequence is that there is not outside force (in this case God (or any words used for ttrancendent being) ) in other words, people are creators of their actions and their understanding determines what is good and bad and there will be no absolutes. so someone can say that his action is a good action even it hurts others and if u have no basis to refer back to you won’t be able to present a proof for the person, and that person can always argue that legislation based on people’s representatives doesn’t represent him and that there is no reason for it to be binding.

  • Thetruth

    You know what else Lebron learned since he was 22? What the media will and will not blow up to make you look like a saint or a jerk. All these guys know how to play the game of saying what the mainstream wants to hear (except Dwight Howard)

  • bike

    That does make sense. The truly homophobic individuals should be stomped on but I wonder about folks who, because of their religious beliefs, should be free to air their opinions and concerns. I know people who are struggling with the gay marriage issue because their church does not recognize it. I don’t view them as bible-thumping homophobes.

  • Gary Jones

    Its astounding what passes for religious commentary. Baffles me why people use religion as a means to pass judgement and be preclusive. Surely goes against the entire ethos of religion.

  • http://twitter.com/apowellAdvocate Allen Powell II

    How do you believe sexual orientation is determined Caboose?

  • Caboose

    You’re gonna start a really long discussion here, Allen, if you’re up for it.

    It is a scientific fact that homosexuality is inborn. The mere act of being attracted to one’s same sex is related to brain chemistry and anatomy (one example being a reduced corpus collosum).

    The only “choice” in the matter (if you call it choice, as I do not believe in choice, free will, intentions, purpose, or any other stuff like that, but that’s a whole different discussion) comes down to how much that sexuality is expressed.

    I hate to assume, but you and I (2 straight men) cannot choose to suddenly be attracted to men, but we can choose to what degree we exhibit our desire of women. I can be a “player,” ruthlessly hitting on every girl I see, or I can push my sexuality away, and not letting it determine my decisions. This is essentially the choice everyone has, homosexuals included.

    The prevalence of homosexuality in the animal kingdom is proof of the inborn nature. In most species, the ratio of homosexuality is very near to humans. If it was a matter of choice, the argument would then have to be made that animals possess choice and free will. Or, you can argue against choice entirely, which would ultimately defeat the idea that homosexuality is a choice. Either way, animals must either have the ability to choose, or homosexuality is inborn, it really can’t be both.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bcbrookins Brittany Brookins

    I can easily accept someone being gay, but I wont change how I feel or contradict my views/beliefs to accomodate anybody. Lol And I dont care how anyone feels about it. At the end of the day its not like they will change their orientation to satisfy my beliefs. So to all these people who want people to alter their feeling about homosexuality how much can you get besides having people accept ghat you are gay and not bother you. Only grief I have is with them veing married in the church. They can do it in court and it be 100% legally binding by a JUDGE. Straight people need to realize that just because you accept someone being gay doesnt mean you have to open ya ass up to them or anythinglike that lbvs.

  • http://twitter.com/apowellAdvocate Allen Powell II

    Caboose, you an I both know they existence of a “gay gene” or any anything else that would point to homosexuality being hereditary has never been proven. There have been studies showing some data that scientists extrapolated to mean it was genetic, but no concrete links.

    Secondly, you and I also know that there is a huge debate over the causes of homosexual behavior in animals. Some scientists argue that its a way to strengthen bonds and show love, whiel others saying it’s often about dominance and aggression similar to what’s seen in prison cultures. The examples of homosexual relationships in animals similar to what is seen in humans is so infrequent it almost doesn’t exist scientifically.

    But, here’s what I find interesting. Many in the LBGT community view gender as something people choose based on the feelings they have. They don’t ascribe to the idea that how you are born defines what gender you must be. Yet, we argue that who you are attracted to sexually is decided purely by nature with no outside influence?
    That doesn’t make sense man.