Today, the professional sports world (at least the NBA) finally will not discriminate based on sexual preference. Free agent NBA player and former Atlanta Hawk Jason Collins comes out and announces that he’s openly gay in a Sports Illustrated first-person essay. Not only he becomes the first active openly gay basketball player in the NBA, but he’s also the first active play to come out in any of the four major American sports (basketball, football, baseball, or hockey).
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport,” says Collins.”But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”
Collins has played in the league for 12 seasons, in which his career includes a three-year stint with the Atlanta Hawks from 2009 to 2012. He deems himself “a pro’s pro” in the SI piece, willing to go up against the best players while creating scoring opportunities for superstars and future Hall-of-Famers such as Jason Kidd, John Wall, and Paul Pierce.
NBA players, as well as professional athletes and celebrities like former president Bill Clinton, showered Collins with support, praise, and compliments.
“Jason is one of the best teammates that I’ve ever had,” Hawks forward Zaza Pachulia tweets. “He was a great presence in the locker room and an even better person. #NBAFamily.”
His announcement hits home to Atlantans, not just because he used to play for the Hawks. Jason Collins’ essay can have a huge impact on the LGBT community in Atlanta. Ranked #9 as one of the “gayest cities in America” by Advocate, Atlanta is fast becoming one of more LGBT friendly cities in the South. Jason Collins is becoming a role model for gay Atlantans, inspiring young men and to play professional sports while not being afraid to live their live without prejudice. The LGBT community there, and even those worldwide, will support him 100% and help professional teams be more inclusive towards gay athletes.
More importantly, Jason Collins becomes another example of the irrelevance of utilizing phobias to bar people from achieving their endeavors to the fullest. It’s all about how well the person play and contribute to the team, regardless of race, color, and how one lives his or her life. If people can still support Ben Roethlisberger, then why not continue to root for Collins? He, like sports personalities before him who also grew into civil rights icons, are athletes first. Collins should be judged on how well he plays basketball. And like Collins, Atlantans ought to be evaluated by their contributions to their workplaces and communities. The basketball player and the city goes hand-in-hand: both are about diversity and equal opportunity.
Meanwhile, we should continue to congratulate Collins for the doors he just opened to gay athletes and the LGBT community in general.
“We hope that his future team will welcome him, and that fans of the NBA and sports in general will applaud him,” says Aaron McQuade, head of GLAAD’s sports program, in a formal statement released by the organization. “We know that the NBA will proudly support him, and that countless young LGBT Athletes now have a new hero.”