Let’s get a couple of things straight (ugh, I hate that puns come so naturally to me…) about Jason Collins’ coming out. Yes, it is a historical event. Yes, it is important. But it’s also problematic. Not through any fault of Jason Collins’, but the spectacle of coming out is… well, it’s unusual.
A few things I’d like to clear up. I applaud Jason Collins’ on how he’s handling the ordeal (although reading his essay, I still think it would have been better if he had let his PR people craft a more- er, articulate press release) but I think there’s something problematic too. To all those saying that he’s changing the face of athletics, let me assure you, homophobia will continue to pervade throughout the world of professional sports. Even as marriage equality gains more and more supporters, there will always be voices of dissent. Yes, this is a step in the right direction, but the way that the whole thing is being discussed, it’s as if people believe that now that there is an openly gay and active professional athlete, it’s going to change the face of professional athletics. Change is gradual. Jason Collins’ coming out proves that change is taking place, but there’s a lot of progress to be made. Jason Collins is at the beginning of something and people are talking about it like he’s ending homophobia in professional athletics.
Secondly, and perhaps more confusing to me than any other element of the story, is this concept of “bravery.” Do I consider Jason Collins to be brace for coming out? Absolutely. But here’s my problem… he’s no braver than anyone else who’s come out. In fact, I think one could easily make an argument that Jason Collins has played it pretty safe in coming out. Support for marriage equality and gay rights is at an all-time high in our nation. I’m sure there’s been a fair amount of market testing on how the reception of a gay athlete would be, but I won’t indulge those thoughts. For all intents and purposes, Collins is a brave individual and should be commended for his public coming out. The only issue is, where’s that kind of support for everyday folks?
When I questioned my friend on why he thought it was such an exceptional event, his response was- well, what you’d typically expect. Locker rooms. I had to be in locker rooms in middle school and high school too. People taunting him and calling him fag. Who hasn’t experienced that in their own coming out? His level of visibility. With visibility, comes security. He has personal guards that most gay kids in high school never had and never will.
No, Collins is certainly brave for coming out, but he’s no braver than anyone else. Say, God forbid, his declaration of sexuality wasn’t well-received. he goes from being a multi-millionaire to… well, staying a multi-millionaire. Even if he lost sponsorship and was dropped from the team, the man has already been afforded a world of possibilities countless of LGBT individuals have never and will never know.
It’s not an issue with Collins’ coming out, per se. It’s the problem of its reception. The public sphere is a difficult place to be, no doubt, but it’s just- it’s difficult to publicly come out. Collins’ essay states how his life has been, essentially, half-lived since as a closeted individual, he couldn’t be the man he knew himself to be. At the same time, his coming out doesn’t change how he plays the game. He’s essentially the same guy, just openly so. At the heart of it as a certain degree of honesty, with the recognition that he is fundamentally the same normal guy he always was… but in the reception of his news, he has been transformed, against his will, into an icon rather than a man.
Truth be told, he should be celebrated. He’s a remarkable player and, as of today, an openly gay athlete. Still, America’s insistence on iconography and celebrity worship is what should be on trial here. This post doesn’t serve as an indictment of Jason Collins. Instead, I hope it serves as a reminder that “bravery” and “courage” don’t come from visibility or being in the spotlight. Instead, alongside Jason Collins, celebrate the GLBT individuals that have been just as brave as Jason Collins in coming out, even if they weren’t met with the same fanfare.