It’s 2013, or so the calendar tells us. Yet when we read news of North Korea’s supposedly impending nuclear attack, the turtle-paced recovery of the economy, the continued legislation of love, or even racially segregated proms, it feels like we’re either stuck in the 1940’s or thrust forward to the end of days. The negative always seems to outweigh the positive. Our faith in humanity slowly diminishes. It’s always darkest before the dawn, but it’s been dark for so long we wonder if dawn is really a thing of myth.
Then there are days, moments, even, that let the light of dawn peek through, showing us we’re perhaps not as doomed as we’ve been told. Moments like today.
Jason Collins, in a piece published in Sports Illustrated, announced he was gay, becoming the first active male professional athlete in a major sport in the United States to do so. A thorough string of qualifiers, to be sure, but ones that enhance, rather than diminish, the magnitude of Collins’ announcement. No, announcement isn’t the right word. Collins and his agent didn’t organize a press conference wherein he read from a statement then took questions from the media. He wrote a frank, honest, and beautiful article, describing his struggle with hiding his true self for so long and his decision to no longer do so. To do such a thing, in such a prominent publication, transcends bravery or courage.
For basketball, and sports overall, this announcement was a long time coming. Other athletes who came out, such as John Amaechi, Robbie Rogers, even as far back as Martina Navratilova helped paved the road for Collins. So too did straight athletes like Brendon Ayanbandejo and Chris Kluwe, outspoken proponents of both gay marriage and acceptance of homosexuals in professional sports. Collins now becomes the first active athlete to come out, and becomes perhaps the biggest fissure in the wall of intolerance in sports.
Further piercing that shroud of despair was the groundswell of support from Collins’ peers following the publication of Collins’ article. Statements from Doc Rivers, David Stern, or even Bill Clinton were encouraging, of course, but their support was never in question, nor was it the most important. The reaction of players, former and current, would be a telling sign as to whether Collins’ world was and is ready for such an announcement. And, in one of those too-rare moments, our faith in humanity was restored just a bit.
Some, such as Kobe Bryant and Baron Davis, praised Collins for his bravery.
Others, like Kevin Durant, though not effusive in his praise, nonetheless supported Collins, citing the brotherhood of basketball and (at least to Durant) the acceptance that comes with the inclusion in said brotherhood.
“Nobody has any right to judge. He’s his own man. Makes his own decisions. As NBA players, it’s like a big group of guys, kind of like a brotherhood. I know I support him. Like I said, I don’t really know him, so whatever decision he makes is something he really thought was good for him. Nothing nobody else can about him. As long as he’s happy, it’s cool.”
Overall, the majority of player’s reactions showed that the world of sports is slowly starting to catch up to society. Maybe it will be some time before another player, a more prominent player comes out, but at least Collins has laid the groundwork for that day.
Unfortunately, though predictably, the day was not without hatred. Intolerance, ignorance and animosity all reared their heads after the story was published. And yet, despite the pure hideousness of these comments, they are, in a way, a necessity.
Screenwriter Stewart Stern, in a letter to James Dean’s parents after the actor’s death, wrote, “Ecstasy is only recognizable when one has experienced pain. Beauty only exists when set against ugliness. Peace is not appreciated without war ahead of it. How we wish that life could support only the good. But it vanishes when its opposite no longer exists as a setting.”
Life cannot exist without Death, and Love cannot exist without Hate. That does not mean, however, that the two are equal. So while the ignorant filth will continue to comment, tweet and spew venomous hatred, they are closer to being drowned out than ever before. And though they do still cause us to shake our heads and bemoan the stupidity of some, those hateful words have value, in that they allow us to better appreciate those of love and support.