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The NBA’s Jason Collins Comes Out

NBA Center Jason Collins comes out. We talk about what it means to be openly gay in sports and beyond.

In a Wednesday, April 17, 2013 file photo, Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, right, battles for a rebound against Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago. (AP)

In a Wednesday, April 17, 2013 file photo, Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, right, battles for a rebound against Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago. (AP)

NBA man-in-the-middle Jason Collins has just wrapped up a season with the Washington Wizards and is now a free agent.  Not a huge story, until you add one ingredient.  He is, as of yesterday, the first ever openly gay male athlete still active in a major American team sport.

It’s a big step for him and for the others who may follow his lead.  So far the response from the court of public opinion, from fellow players and the NBA brass has been overwhelmingly positive.  Is this a tipping point in major American sports?

This hour, On Point: The NBA’s Jason Collins takes center court.

Guests

Franz Lidz, co-authored with NBA free agent Jason Collins the cover story in the May 6th issue of Sports Illustrated: “Why NBA center Jason Collins is coming out now.”

Kevin Blackistone, teaches sports journalism at the University of Maryland. Panelist on ESPN’s Around the Horn. (@profblackistone)

LZ Granderson, journalist and commentator for CNN and ESPN. 2008 and 2010 honoree of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for column writing. (@locs_n_laughs)

Martina Navratilova, tennis legend, winner of 59 Grand Slam crowns, and a record 9 Wimbledon singles championships. One of the first openly gay sports figures. (@martina)

Show Excerpts

On Point guest host Jane Clayson asked Navratilova about how being a gay athlete was different for men and women:

JANE CLAYSON: Is this at all different, Martina Navratilova for male athletes than for female athletes? Is there a culture within big game sports that makes being gay harder for a male than for a female athlete?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: Well I think a lot of straight girls don’t even go into sports because they don’t want to be bullied and be called a lesbian. It’s like if you’re an athlete woman out there, you have to prove your heterosexuality. For guys it’s the other way around. When you’re playing football it’s assumed you are straight because, of course, gay guys are sissies and they wouldn’t want to play football! And so it’s almost understood that of course you are straight because this is a macho sport.

But on the other hand to me, it would make it easier for me to come out because I am obviously so macho: I am playing football, so you have a problem with my sexuality? Really? Watch me tackle. Watch me run with the ball. So it’s funny that it’s taken this long.

But again for team sport athletes it’s much more difficult, because they could totally be blackballed out of the league.

We were also joined by openly gay journalist and commentator LZ Granderson, who used a personal story to reflect on the importance of athletes being able to be open about their sexual orientation:

LZ GRANDERSON: I’ll give you some full disclosure. I was approached by a closeted gay athlete – I’m gay. And this athlete was interested in dating me, and you know he was cool or whatever, but I said to him: was he willing to have me sit in the family and friends section of the arena? And was he willing to have me attend events with him as his date? Because if he wasn’t willing to do that, then I wasn’t willing be his boyfriend.

That’s not advertising one’s sexual orientation, that’s just being treated as a human being and as a loving couple and as an equal. So the fact that these individuals that are still closeted in the big four sports don’t feel comfortable bringing their loved ones to the family and friends section isn’t about advertising or shoving anything down anyone’s throat, it’s about being able to live like a whole human being like everyone else.

You don’t think you’re asking someone’s sexual orientation when you say things like, are you married? But you are. Because if they reveal the gender of the person that you are married to, you indirectly have asked that person’s sexual orientation. Just because you haven’t say the word “gay,” doesn’t mean you aren’t asking if they are.

From The Reading List

Sports Illustrated: Why NBA center Jason Collins is coming out now – “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay. 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. 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.”

Los Angeles Times: Brittney Griner acknowledges she’s gay, says ‘just be who you are’ — “Ex-Baylor star Brittney Griner likes to remind all the girls and young women who idolize her to just be themselves and not worry what others think. Griner was doing just that this week while discussing her sexual orientation, apparently for the first time with the media. The new member of the Phoenix Mercury, chosen No. 1 overall in Monday’s WNBA, did not make a big deal about the fact that she is a lesbian, making no big coming-out announcement.”

The Boston Herald: Jason Collins gets ball rolling for all players in closet — “True, you can make the case that the conversation has been ongoing for some time now. But what Washington Wizards (and former Boston Celtics) center Jason Collins has done, via his coming-out essay in Sports Illustrated, is crank up the volume to such a degree that his voice, his message, is going to be clanging off the walls of locker rooms across North America and beyond for a long, long time.”

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