It was never a question of “if” an active professional athlete in a major U.S. sport would announce that he’s gay—only a matter of “when.”
We got our answer Monday when Jason Collins, who played center for the Washington Wizards this past season, announced in a Sports Illustrated
article that he is a gay American athlete.
Predictably, the reactions from the sports world were a mix of the encouraging to the cringe-worthy.
On the encouraging end, the NBA was nothing less than celebratory. A front-page blog post titled “Courageous Collins Breaks Barrier
” included a statement from league commissioner David Stern:
“… we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family. Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.”
Congratulatory tweets came from his colleagues and from a former U.S. president:
Still, there were detractors who tried their best to mar the moment. ESPN talking head Chris Broussard caught some heat for saying on air that being gay was an “open rebellion to God.”
ESPN issued the following statement following Broussard’s appearance on its program “Outside the Lines”:
“We regret that a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction from today’s news. ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.”
Broussard also issued a clarifying statement
“Today on OTL, as part of a larger, wide-ranging discussion on today's news, I offered my personal opinion as it relates to Christianity, a point of view that I have expressed publicly before. I realize that some people disagree with my opinion and I accept and respect that. As has been the case in the past, my beliefs have not and will not impact my ability to report on the NBA. I believe Jason Collins displayed bravery with his announcement today and I have no objection to him or anyone else playing in the NBA.”
NFL wide receiver Mike Wallace
also came under fire for now-deleted tweets that read, “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys (shaking my head)…” He continued, “I’m not bashing anybody don’t have anything against anyone. I just don’t understand it.” He later apologized.
Dwelling on the negative aspects of yesterday’s coverage might take away from the moment’s significance. Collins will pave the way for other athletes to feel safe making similar announcements. We’re still in for more firsts—first Major League Baseball player, NFL player, NHL player, etc.—but Collins will forever be lauded for his courage. And thankfully, Broussard’s comments—and similar ones like those from the increasingly irrelevant Mike Francesa
—will be forgotten.