A really free agent

3 May

By now you’ve perhaps read NBA center Jason Collins’ first person article in Sports Illustrated “Why NBA center Jason Collins is coming out now” (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/news/20130429/jason-collins-gay-nba-player/#ixzz2SFgeQiYd).

His story is moving, particularly when he talks about what it was like for him when he hadn’t come out:

No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing.  I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel  stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy  to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous  lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone  knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time.  I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my  friends still had my back.

… My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics  and then the Wizards. The number has great significance to the gay community.  One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard,  a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie  fence. He died five days after he was finally found.

He also provokes questions in moments as he tells his story:

Note to Shaq: My flopping has nothing to do with being gay.

…Go ahead, take a swing — I’ll get up. I hate to say it, and I’m not proud of  it, but I once fouled a player so hard that he had to leave the arena on a  stretcher.

… I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be  shocked: That guy is gay? But I’ve always been an aggressive player,  even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn’t make you  soft?

I flinch a little reading these lines, thinking about internalized homophobia, what Collins needs to present and represent as he makes this public announcement… and I am humbled as I realize once again the privilege of not having to declare my sexuality with any anticipation of hatred, fear, pity or shame. And while it’s painful to see Collins leverage “the gay stereotype” for his own legitimacy, part of what is painful is that there is a stereotype. (Sure, there’s a heterosexual male stereotype, too, but it doesn’t have the same marginalizing and damning  effect when applied.)

As I listen to folks in my community talk about Collin’s story, I want to quote him back to them when they talk about how he should have just kept covering:

The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My  behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now. My conduct won’t  change. I still abide by the adage, “What happens in the locker room stays in  the locker room.” I’m still a model of discretion.

And as for the argument that gay is better left unspoken about, Collins writes:

Look at what happened in the military when the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was  repealed. Critics of the repeal were sure that out military members would  devastate morale and destroy civilization. But a new study conducted by scholars  from every branch of the armed forces except the Coast Guard concluded that  “cohesion did not decline after the new policy of open service was put into  place. In fact, greater openness and honesty resulting from repeal seem to have  promoted increased understanding, respect and acceptance.”

Sounds like the sort of dynamics that make a winning team.

** Thanks to my colleague CS and the guys down at the bar for this story.

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