Jason Collins, Homosexuality and the NBA
If homosexuality really is the next great civil rights frontier, why are we willing to label Collins by his sexual orientation?
I know a little bit about the Bible, though not nearly as much as I should. I know a little bit about sports, though more than I probably should. Every once in a while, I feel like those worlds collide.
This week, Jason Collins publicly declared his homosexuality. According to most sports media perspectives, this is the first time an active athlete in major professional sports has openly declared his homosexuality. This immediately becomes big news.
As the media jumped all over this, I wondered if they weren’t “boxing themselves out.” When you “box out” in basketball, you are strategically using your body to try and position (and legally push) your way toward getting a rebound. And if two players want the same space, there is obviously going to be a lot of effort and pressure applied. Sometimes, as you are trying to assert your will and move an opponent, you actually find yourself out of position.
Push too hard or have the opponent shift just slightly on you and you can find yourself behind the backboard (where only the most errant shot will go) or directly under the basket (where only a made shot — which does not need rebounded — will go). Such actions, in essence, mean you boxed yourself out. You got where you were trying to go, but then found it didn’t have the benefit you had hoped for. I wonder if the coverage of this story hasn’t created a similar situation for the media and our society.
In my attempt to be humorous this morning, I tweeted the joke: “Lost in the Jason Collins story, we’re calling a member of the Wizards an “active player” during the playoffs! What is this, 2008?” It was a jab at the woeful Washington Wizards, but there’s an element of truth to it as well. Collins is technically a free agent. His team is finished playing for the year (since they fell well short of the playoffs) and are under no obligation to bring Collins back.
Quite honestly, by October 2013, this may actually be a non-story. If no other team signs Collins (and that is a possibility), we still do not have an openly gay “active” major professional athlete.
The other (more important) reason also comes from the fact that Collins plays in Washington. Legend has it that during media day of the 1988 Super Bowl, Washington Redskins quarterback, Doug Williams, was asked, “How long have you been a black quarterback?”
The question was probably never actually asked, but it summarized well a litany of questions fired at Williams that focused much more on the color of his skin than on his ability as a player. The interview session became a caricature of the ignorance and bigotry that can still be evident in “jock culture.”
We consider ourselves to have “evolved” from those days. Just last year, the Redskins drafted their next star quarterback. Rather than the attention Williams’ color received in the 80′s, most of the discussion about this draft choice had to do with his size and the offensive system. No one cared that he’s black. Everyone considered him electric and exciting and a born leader. The only questions were simply if his stature was to small for the rigors of the NFL and if his “wide open” offense would translate to the pros.