Jason Collins coming out as gay is on the cover of Sports Illustrated as big news. I know this because all the talking heads in the media tell us that. They also tell us that anyone that says “Who cares?” is a homophobe.
I am being told that he is the first “active” player to come out publicly — even though he will shortly become a free agent and was unlikely to get picked up next year. Scores of female athletes and several foreign athletes are out of the closet and other American men have come out after they retired, or it was known in the locker room but not announced to the media. Mr. Collins, however, plays one of America’s big four team sports and there is so much media hype and push for a great narrative that I think many issues are getting lost in the hoopla.
With that said, let me congratulate Mr. Collins on coming out so he can openly be who he is with no shame. Being who you are takes great personal courage. The relief he must feel with his friends and family has to be immense.
But personally, I do not care about Mr. Collins‘ sexuality, and neither should you. Rather, I care that he be a good person, son, brother and teammate.
That is what conservatives mean when we talk about the need to move past affirmative action and identity politics. Mr. Collins‘ character, work ethic and ability are the only factors that should matter in his professional and personal life, not the categories and labels he can check off on some form.
I see many people attacked for this viewpoint, accused of homophobia and of hypocrisy for greedily absorbing any gossip about other athletes’ sex lives. This intolerance confuses indifference for bigotry.
Sports Illustrated and Mr. Collins do not approach the article as a story about a man that happens to be gay, therefore acknowledging that there is real no difference between him and his twin brother. Rather, the article begins with the following statement: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
To me this speaks to identity politics and the need to define ourselves. By defining ourselves, we are locked into a role and become a representative of their associated ideologies. It also tells others not only how we see ourselves, but how they are supposed to see us.
We could all see he is black; we could not see he is gay. Why the need to reference his race? When people ask me who I am, I do not answer, “I’m a businessman, conservative commentator, and black.” What I do is not wrapped up in the color of my skin. Who I am is not about my profession and ethnicity.
I think it is safe to say everyone assumes there are plenty of gay professional athletes. We know being gay does not take away from his abilities as an athlete, nor add anything.
For those that only care if he plays well, hits his shots, and sets his picks; this is the “Who cares?” moment. To most of these people, Mr. Collins personal life means as much to them as Tom Brady’s, in that it does not. Just because the media often makes Mr. Brady’s life into a celebrity feeding frenzy does not mean that most hard-core sports fans care.
The casual fan does, however, and I think we need to be aware of that and acknowledge the importance of Mr. Collins‘ decision to the general public and the gay community. For example, in a single day he went from a man with 4,000 Twitter followers to one with more than 100,000. Most of his new fans only like him because of this announcement. To me, that is as absurd as liking a person only based on the color of his skin.
But be that as it may, Mr. Collins is now the spokesman for gay athletes in America — past, present and future.
Not only that, he will be exploited. Several weeks ago, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he would gladly sign the first openly gay player. So is Mr. Collins going to be signed because his skills or because he is now an icon? That and everything else will be questioned — playing time, performance, reactions from other players when he delivers (or takes) a hard foul, etc. And now that he has made his private life public, that will be exploited for gossip. Who is he dating? Is he marching in this parade? Is he properly representing the gay community? Hopefully, he has the fortitude to stand up under this intense scrutiny.