Yes, it’s a big deal.
A few hours into the news cycle of Jason Collins’announcement that he is gay, perhaps the most perplexing comments of all seemed to be that this is not news.
I know, I know, reading online comments only brings horror and exasperation, but I was more or less just curious what direction they were taking in the sports world. And I was more or less surprised not to be appalled.
Of course there’s the snark that comes when a journeyman player most have never heard of comes out. Things like “Jason Collins is a gay NBA player? I didn’t know he was still in the NBA.” The jokes seem to be mostly about who Jason Collins is (or isn’t) as a ballplayer than anything else that I’ve seen.
And that’s a good thing.
There are also the comments about this not being so Earth-shattering if it had been a superstar, but Jason Collins himself summed it up by saying someone had to be first and it might as well be him. Of course it would have been an even bigger deal if it were Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, or a superstar in the NFL or Major League Baseball.
And that’s true, but it doesn’t take away the impact of it all.
It’s those who wonder why this is a story at all that make me scratch my head the most. The online commenters have been joined by sports talk radio hosts on that non-topic topic as well. It might not be a big story to you, but guess what? This isn’t about you.
To say this isn’t a big deal, that his sexuality being known is not important, is to assume that Jason Collins is going to be warmly accepted with open arms by every person who hears the news. The same way gay kids are so warmly accepted by everyone they encounter in childhood and beyond. The way some gay employees don’t want to come out at work because they don’t know how they will be received. The way many gay people don’t want to come out to their own families for fear of being disowned or condemned as a sinner.
To say Jason Collins’ announcement isn’t news is a slap in the face to everyone who has been on the receiving end of pain and prejudice throughout their lives. To simply say it’s the media latching on to a good story sells the media short, too. In its most noble form, what the media has always been is a way for people to tell their story. Every newspaper in America fields calls every day from people who feel they have been wronged and want the paper to help. Jason Collins had a story to tell, and found a respectable outlet in Sports Illustrated to convey it where it would have the most impact.
Jason Collins can be told his inside game sucks, or that he never really amounted to much in the NBA.
Just don’t tell him or anyone else that what he did by coming out is insignificant. One day it might be insignificant when a U.S. male pro athlete comes out as being gay. And if that day ever occurs, he'll be able to give a big thanks to Jason Collins.