Jason Collins, Homosexuality and the NBA

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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.

Danny Wright Danny Wright is the Pastor of Teaching at Greenville Grace Brethren Church in Greenville, Ohio. He and his wife have four children.

More from Danny Wright or visit Danny at http://dannyjwright.wordpress.com

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  • genesis

    The more society talks about this issue of the redefinition of marriage and homosexuality especially with the Collins story the more we accentuate its abnormality. I believe that humans as a whole know that being homosexual is not a natural tendency however we supress the truth by trying to convince ourselves that it is.

  • Tom Cocklereece

    Very thoughtful article! The more people in society and the media bring attention to the injustices of discrimination the more they become partner to discrimination and deem what is right to be wrong and what is wrong to be right. Alas, their efforts change nothing in God’s eyes.

  • Dr. V

    WELL SAID!

  • Scott Moore

    Sports being a religion of its own that preaches many different values and morals always seems to collide with the church of Christ Jesus. With so many role models to choose from preaching the same messages of overcomming societal issues in many different ways, yet obtaining the same reward of success, it’s no wonder more people go to the church of sports for these issues to be solved. Maybe it’s because they’re impartial and preach all is good in the sports neighborhood, and what you do and who you are doesn’t matter as long as you’re good enough….
    With success as their god, they are able to reach more people who desperately need to feel a sense of worth, and many people look to these athletes as not just role models, but gods, and in turn live their lives as their favorites rise and fall.
    All that being said (if it makes any sense), is that mankind always has a need to feel accepted, loved and happy, and the only true fullness of these virtues is found in The Lord Jesus Christ.
    May those outside the church of sports pray for him and also pray for those who are inside and will bear witness to the grace and love of Jesus, and also speak with love and clarity as this issue arises in casual conversations

  • deandeguara

    Thanks for being bold enough to write on this contraversial event. Here’s why its so newsworthy: its the power of being first. Like Jackie Robinson becoming the first African American to play mlb baseball. The sad thing is that Collin’s decision is being compared to the civil rights movement. Collins is being praised for a choice, his preference, men. Millions of African Americans however, did not choose the color of their skin. No one has forced Collin’s to be straight or gay. He made a timely decision for a dying career. He’s a graduate of Stanford for goodness sake this kid is smart. Instead of fading off into oblivion he probably added another year to his playing career and set himself up perfectly after his career is over.

  • Rick Knox

    Thanks for this thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis. I appreciate especially the tone with which you’ve address a thorny issue–one that’s dividing our culture, friends and families. Keep up the good work, please!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rodneybhoward Rodney Howard

    Amazing [Christian sports editorial] Mr. Wright. LOL All was accurate and a good read. His career SHOULD be over because of his downhill play, and not re-sparked by his coming out of the [locker room]. But hey, the team that picks him up will be the first to activate an openly gay ball player…a marketer’s dream! New fan base, increase ticket sales,…hmmm—those Lakers are pretty desperate..!