It says more about society than it does him that Jason Collins’ compelling essay announcing to the world that he is gay was greeted with such joy and relief and respect and praise.
But as far as we may think we have come as a tolerant society, the heartfelt story that broke shortly ago at si.com is important and its impact cannot be diminished.
Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, is the first North American professional athlete (and he is a 34-year-old free agent on the downside of his career in many ways) to come out while still active in his career.
It was – and I don’t toss this word around too lightly when it comes to simple games and the men who play them – a courageous act.
And a significant one.
To some, it will evoke shrugs, as it should because who really cares? But that’s an overly-simplistic attitude to take; it is all well and good to say some of us don’t care about such things but this will be a watershed moment in moving the machismo world of professional sports a bit closer to the reality of life.
Collins is sure to be the subject of some level of retribution from the ignorant and intolerant among us, he surely knew this as he penned those words. And yet he did it, he put himself out there not for selfish reasons, I don’t imagine, but because it’s important to show the world that it is of paramount importance to be true to yourself.
The essay is brilliant, it touches on every imaginable aspect of life, a compelling story of why and how he arrived at the decision to open his life so widely to the world. It will go down as one of the greatest and most important statements ever made by an athlete.
I don’t know Jason Collins at all – I may have been on the periphery of scrums with him over the course of his career – but I applaud him for his courage and his willingness to be such a leader; to do something no one in his position has ever done before.
There are other gay athletes in professional sports – it’s inconceivable that there are not given the sheer numbers – and they will have to wrestle with their own consciences on how they handle themselves.
But there are also countless teenagers and young adults among us trying to become NBA players or NHL players or NFL players or titans of business or bartenders or what-have-you who are grappling with their own minds on an issue few of us can comprehend.
If, by his actions and his words and his willingness to put himself out there as a forerunner, Collins can make it easier for any of them to deal with what’s going on in their minds and their lives, incomprehensible good would have been done by one brilliant essay.
The world – sports, politics, business, industry – needs more men like Jason Collins who are willing to stand up and say:
This is who I am, this is what I stand for, this is the way I live.
I don’t know Jason Collins.
But we should all be proud of him.