Major male professional team sports in North America has arrived at the final frontier. It has had its lunar landing. There are gay footprints on the surface.
Who will follow Jason Collins and come out to play?
How many will follow Jason Collins?
How many years are to pass before it’s no longer a man-bites-dog story when an openly gay man plays for a team in the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League? Ten years? Twenty years?
Surely, Jason Collins will not be the first and last of his kind. Just as Jack Roosevelt Robinson was not the beginning and the end of black players in MLB.
Much, of course, depends on the roadblocks and pot holes Collins will encounter.
Many have presented the frail argument that a gay man will not be accepted in the locker room, which are actually alpha male, frat boy man caves. Well, having an openly gay man among them in the changing room was so disruptive to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday night that they only managed to wallop the Los Angeles Lakers by half a dozen points. Collins’s contribution to the winning cause was zero points, one steal, two rebounds and five personal fouls in slightly more than 10 minutes of work.
The boxscore does not tell us if Collins leered at, or groped, any of his teammates in the shower, but if he had I’m certain we would have heard about it by now.
So we know that the Nets have accepted their gay teammate, who is working on a 10-day contract in the hope it will score him a full-time gig. Others in the NBA have embraced Collins, and he received a warm, if not enthusiastic, welcome from the audience at the Staples Center on Sunday.
Still, we also know there will be resistance. Not all in a land of 7-footers will be so eager to accept a gay man as a teammate. Ditto the fans. For now, they appear to be a silent minority, but it only takes one or two to bring the rabble to rise with pitch forks and torches in hand. Be certain that there are many male lumps sitting on many bar stools across North America who will look at Collins on their TV screens and call him an “effing faggot.” They will wish for his failure. They just want the story to go away.
In truth, gay men playing in one of the four major professional team sports on this continent is not a societal issue. It is a heterosexual male issue.
There are two things the alpha male is loathe to discuss. One is tampons. The other is gay men (unless, of course, it is to mock, belittle and assail them).
The last thing the heterosexual male wants to hear is that Aaron Rodgers is gay. Or Sidney Crosby is gay. Or LeBron James is gay. Or Big Papi is gay. Tell a straight man that his sporting hero is a “Nancy boy” and he’ll plug his ears and chant “can’t hear you, can’t hear you, can’t hear you.”
It’s okay for a male figure skater to be gay. It’s a wuss sport, right? Only “fags” watch figure skating. And, hey, straight men are okay with lesbian athletes, too. It gives them an opportunity to tell crass jokes about snap-on tools and carpet munching.
But if a guy in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB is gay…that’s a sign of weakness.
What the alpha male doesn’t understand is this: Being openly gay is a strength, not a weakness.
Playing basketball in a closet must be extremely difficult, especially if you’re 7-feet tall and 255 pounds. That’s what Jason Collins did for the first 713 games of his mostly unspectacular NBA career, now in its 13th season. He was a closeted gay player. When he walked on to the court at the Staples Center in L.A. to participate in game No. 714 on Sunday, it was as an openly gay player.
Being openly gay won’t necessarily make Jason Collins a better basketball career because, at 35, he’s arrived at the North 40 of his career. But those of us in the gay collective can tell you that it took balls (pun intended) to take that first step. Size XXXL balls.
The same could be said for the Brooklyn Nets for signing, and playing, this gay man.
It seems to be that historically significant moments in the sports arena is a Brooklyn kind of thing.
First it was the Brooklyn Dodgers, who pencilled Jack Roosevelt Robinson into their lineup in April of 1947. His teammates and friends called him Jackie. Others called him “n_____.” That’s the way it was in April of 1947, when the Dodgers became the first team in MLB to field a black player. Robinson endured because he had incredible inner strength.
Now we have the Brooklyn Nets, who sent Jason Collins into the fray in their assignment with the Lakers. His teammates and friends call him Jason. Others will call him “fag.” Gospel sharks will call him “sinner.” That’s the way it will be for the first openly gay player in any of the four major pro sports enterprises in North America. He will endure because he has incredible inner strength.
One of these years, this will no longer be a story. But not until the alpha males get over their testosterone-induced insecurities.