Considering I was once barely considered a college basketball player, I wanted to start with a lighthearted spring college hoops preview. But, then Jason Collins made history. He has come out as an actively gay athlete participating in one of the world’s most popular professional leagues. So, sorry to the five of you who were expecting “Nick Berardini’s Hilarious Preview of College Basketball’s Post-Draft Declaration Deadline Pre-Season Top 25 Extravaganza” to kick things off. History wins.
We are not, as individuals, a very bright species. Yes, we collectively have accomplished great things. But, individually, the average human does less with more intellectual capacity than just about any living creature. A dog barks because he hears an unfamiliar sound; we can cognitively reason that it’s just the mailman. I’m not trying to condescend to you, because I’m guilty as well. I could be far more intelligent than I am. There’s absolutely no reason why I can’t do trigonometry after learning it for a year in high school. I took four years of Latin, and I consider the fact that I remember to pronounce the v’s like w’s a monumental victory for public education. I have the capacity to learn quantum physics. Instead, I spend countless hours screaming at my TV, cursing Frank Haith for going to late clock on-ball screens the last five minutes of every close game. STOP CLOCK-KILLING AND RUN YOUR OFFENSE. I could probably find more dynamic things to do with my time.
We typically coalesce our interests into the things that sustain us, so, realistically there isn’t too much harm in curbing our intellectual curiosity. I could get on my soapbox about the dangers of Teen Mom, Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of Whatever Whoretown, Stephanie Meyer novels, Top 40 music, and tabloid journalism, but pop-culture identity probably doesn’t ruin America quite as much as I like to believe. Some of my best friends indulge in the things that I find shallow and petty, yet they are intelligent, productive members of society capable of deep psychological deduction. So, despite our laziness, we have come incredibly far. Roughly 150 years ago, we justified slavery as an economic necessity and massacred thousands in the name of Manifest Destiny. 50 years ago we made African Americans use different bathrooms. Hell, 20 years ago, millions were terrified of people with AIDS.
The most prevalent danger of our intellectual indolence is that it makes us susceptible to groupthink. The world can be a callous and apathetic place, and the Internet sometimes reveals our darkest thoughts. With the social media revolution, we’ve given everyone a voice. While there have been far more victories for citizen journalism than defeats, the defeats do hit hard. Bigotry and discrimination thrive within ignorance and polarization. We used to gather information from sources that had earned the right to speak to us; now, the uninformed have to deconstruct massive amounts of content just to start at the beginning. Impressionable people that don’t have factual information can be swayed by the wrong voices. We are afraid of what we don’t know, especially when we don’t know whose opinion to trust.
That’s why Jason Collins is a hero. In a culture prone to hyperbole, he deserves every adulation bestowed upon him. This is a colossal step forward for others afraid of themselves and who they are. Jason Collins is inviting the public and his colleagues to judge him, if they dare. He is betting on our rationality, and even if he wins, acceptance and support certainly won’t be unanimous. Jason’s decision to come out shows how much he is willing to risk.
THE INSECURITIES OF THE LOCKER ROOM
Consider the sanctity of an NBA locker room. These are some of the most idolized men in an intensely macho profession, bonding with each other to form a collective toughness and togetherness that sets out to compete at arguably the highest athletic level in the world. Not too many of us equate homosexuality with machismo. Jason Collins now trusts that when he walks in that locker room, his character and experiences as a professional will trump the stigmas associated with homosexuality. It takes real courage to face your colleagues and invite them to discuss who you are so openly. He wrote in his essay to Sports Illustrated, “I’ve been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I’m a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” So far, the reaction within the league has been overwhelmingly positive. Clearly, support for Jason’s decision won’t be as universal as it was on Monday. At 34, he’s nearing the end of his career, and if he’s lucky enough to sign a free agent deal this summer, he will be faced with whispers in the locker room. There are plenty of ways to undermine a player. The entire sport is built around trust and respect, and it only takes a couple of teammates to poison his credibility or role as a locker room leader. My hope is that the mantra of, “If you can play, you can play,” will carry the most weight for whomever he signs with. Jason’s homosexuality won’t make him any less useful as a basketball player, and I have faith his teammates will agree.
Despite all the insecurity he must be feeling, he’s also opened the door for others in the league to come out publicly. If you believe he’s the only one, you’re an idiot. Do the math: 30 teams times 15 players on a roster. There are certainly others.
THE PUBLIC’S FASCINATION WITH HOMOSEXUALITY AS DIFFERENT
Imagine being a nameless worker your entire career, and suddenly you’re the CEO. Everyone knows you; everyone watches your every move; everyone judges you; that’s what awaits Jason now. His entire career, he’s been best known for fouling hard and having a twin brother who also played in the NBA. From now on, Jason is famous for being “the gay one” in public. Now, he will know what some stupid people think because he can read their thoughts. Obviously, it’s scary for him because the bigoted are so accessible to each other. Yet, even for those who don’t care that he’s gay, being gay still makes him different. The only reason homosexuality is taboo is because we make it taboo. We push it aside; we see it as different; we don’t want to address it; we fear it; we think of it as a defect. Homosexuality is not a disease or a choice. Jason, writing about his pre-teen years, wrote, “It was around this time that I began noticing subtle differences between Jarron (twin brother) and me. Our twinness was no longer synchronized. I couldn’t identify with his attraction to girls.” Do we really believe that 12 year old Jason Collins woke up one day and said, “You know what, I think I like guys. This whole vagina thing, not really sure how that’s going to work for me.” He was a 12 year old. If it was a choice, do you really believe that millions of LGBT people would choose to suffer through despair and loneliness because they simply wanted to be different? Plus, don’t you think it would be pretty easy to determine if homosexuality was a choice? “Hey, kid, are you gay?” “What’s gay? I like Ninja Turtles. Are they gay?” He’s pushing the discussion closer to a point where society does not treat homosexuality as a learned, different behavior. Jason Collins is heroic because he is choosing to open his life up to the world, to supporters and detractors, in order to get us to a place where countless young people no longer have to be different.
THE HYPOCRISY OF SOCIAL MEDIA CRUSADERS
“Christians” have already come out to cast stones and preach hateful speech based on selective scripture. Groupthink is most dangerous amongst the uneducated, and discrimination is easily disguised or justified when there are lots of concurring voices.
But, seriously, think about Christianity for a second. The entire faith is based on the teachings of a man who hung out with tax collectors and whores. I’m a Catholic. I believe in Jesus Christ. There is absolutely no way I can fathom Jesus, in all of his infinite wisdom, using the catchphrase, “It’s Adam and Eve; not Adam and STEVE.” It’s outrageous. Scripture has been used for centuries to pistol-whip uneducated masses into “good” behavior deemed acceptable not by what’s moral, but by manipulative, power-starved charlatans. Do we even need to get into the countless examples of things the Bible says you shouldn’t do that are patently ridiculous? Leviticus and Romans are often cited as entries that condemn homosexuality, but dozens of Christian scholars have argued that both passages are misinterpreted or mistranslated. “Eww, but Nick, ugh, I just can’t even imagine it. It’s so unnatural.” Think Jason Collins wants to imagine your fat body trying to mount a woman for three minutes of awkward penetration? That’s not natural, either. Get over yourself; you don’t have to think about it. If you’re such a Christian, sexual thoughts won’t permeate your subconscious anyway.
It’s one thing for regular people to show themselves as stupid when they join the discussion publicly, but I cannot understand the reaction of some that make their livelihood in public. King Dope Mike Wallace of the Miami Dolphins took it upon himself to remind the world that beautiful women exist for our hedonistic pleasure. What an existential poet. This idiot-savant is understandably egotistical because he has been handed a charmed life and he’s proven himself to be a moron, so it’s not a total shock when he abuses his right to speak to thousands of people. Chris Broussard? His opinion is irrelevant. He has every right to believe that homosexuality is a sin, yet despite putting it thoughtfully, his words will now be used as justification for the more hate-spewing masses that have already used the Internet to tell Jason to, “Burn in Hell fag.” Is that fair? No. I don’t believe Broussard was being hateful, but it was a lose-lose situation. His comments further perpetuate the idea that homosexuality is a learned behavior that can be corrected. You have to understand your place in society, and his voice reaches millions. Unintentionally, his voice will now be used as vindication for those looking to believe their hateful opinions aren’t prejudicial. He was also using Jason’s very personal decision to come out as a platform to explain why he isn’t a bigot. How egotistical and dense can you be? This is not your time to explain yourself and what you believe on national TV. Then he used the patented “I have gay friends” defense. What a clown. Nobody with a brain believes that Broussard has his finger on the pulse of the nation when it comes to hot button issues, so why jeopardize the relationships and trust you’ve built with NBA sources by joining the conversation? Even if some of your sources agree with you, they now see you as an opinionated commentator. You’ve moved beyond your responsibilities as a reporter. There was the expected backlash from conservative public figures, many of which came out to support Broussard, but his lack of self-awareness is astounding.
The Crusaders are making every effort to downplay Collins as a hero. In fact, some are even questioning why Tim Tebow, who takes some flack for being very open about his Christian faith, is not similarly celebrated. Yup, congratulations America. We managed to pull Tebow into this thing.
Again, this is where the Internet can be unfairly judgmental, and Tim has certainly been the butt of plenty of jokes for being honest about who he is. It would be the height of hypocrisy to judge Tebow for living honestly yet support Collins. But, are we seriously comparing the levels of persecution? This isn’t ancient Rome where they fed the Christians to the lions. Tim Tebow has to deal with unfortunate cynicism or snide jokes; do we need to compare what he deals with to what awaits Jason Collins as an openly gay man? Forget what he’s already had to deal with as a closeted homosexual, or the fact that homosexuality has, unlike Christianity, a recent history of violent persecution in America. Jason Collins, as an American citizen, will be denied basic rights afforded to others. Simply disallowing Jason to marry another man deprives him of over 1,300 Federal rights granted to heterosexual married couples. Want to keep playing the Tim Tebow is a hero too game?
JASON IS A HERO
Heroism should be defined by exceptional individual action. That action may be simple, but it has to be profound. I consider Rosa Parks a hero for simply refusing to give up her seat on a bus. We look back as a society now and are embarrassed that it was even necessary for her to be heroic, but Ms. Parks helped drive us toward progress. Jason Collins is choosing to endure persecution in order to help us evolve. It’s almost a certainty that eventually, rationality will win out, because we are collectively logical and compassionate. Ironically, groupthink will eventually push us to a place where the bigoted come to understand how wrong they are. The question is: how long will it take for us to no longer view Jason as different? He’s still facing a polarized world in which far too many people undeserving of a voice can tell him what they think. Luckily for us, he doesn’t really care anymore.