Muller: Jason Collins catalyzes tolerance in pro sports


Yoni Muller, Assistant Opinion Editor

On Monday, April 29, two amazing things happened. The first is that I learned who Jason Collins is; the second, and admittedly more important thing, is that Jason Collins revealed he was gay, becoming the first active athlete in one of the four major American sports leagues to do so.

As it turns out, Jason Collins is a big deal. After graduating from Stanford with multiple awards and records under his belt, Collins went on to play for the New Jersey Nets and helped carry them to their first two NBA Finals appearances. He has since played for the Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Hawks, Celtics and Wizards, making him one of the most visible presences in basketball. Collins is a respected veteran, a natural leader and a dominant character on the field. As a result, he is in the perfect position to help catalyze the acceptance of homosexuality in professional sports.

Historically, homosexuality has had no place in professional sports. Whether it was Tim Hardaway saying he hates gay people, Yunel Escobar attacking homosexuals via eyeblack or one of a thousand other incidents, homophobia and intolerance have plagued professional sports.

However, as I’ve mentioned before, public sentiment toward gay rights and approval has changed, something that is slowly being reflected in sports. Athletes today are consistently voicing support for issues important to the gay community, such as marriage equality. Yet this transformation is nowhere near complete.

Although dishonest responses in surveys make collecting data extremely difficult, one can look at the average percent of gay residents in American cities, which is about 10 percent. Of all of the contracted athletes in the Big Four, only Collins is openly gay. Granted, a group of elite superhumans that could crush us common folk isn’t exactly the most random sample of people, but it seems that one of two things is happening: Either the same gene that turns people into giants also makes them straight, or multiple athletes aren’t quite ready to admit their sexual orientations. I personally am inclined to believe the latter.

It appears as though others are agreeing with me. Charles Barkley, a man with just a little bit more insight into the world of professional sports than me, has said that he has played with tons of gay athletes, which makes me wonder who they are. I only know of one — and last week I didn’t even know that many. It’s clear that thus far, being a gay athlete has carried enough stigma and has been taboo enough that these people would rather live with a secret identity than face the pressures of public scrutiny and disapproval by fans and teammates. Either that or Barkley is just pretending he has friends again.

The point that I am trying to make is not that Collins is a hero or that he’s a symbol of how far the gay movement has come or how far we as a society have come that we can accept him. Jason Collins is extremely brave for setting this precedent, and to what extent we embrace him as some icon for the gay rights movement should exactly match how much he embraces himself in that role. Collins can serve as a catalyst. Though it’s comforting to many to see how much universal support Collins has received, it doesn’t help teenagers who are bullied into depression and suicide; it doesn’t help people from religious towns who must live a lie or be ostracized by their loved ones. It does, however, allow other athletes to see that being gay does not mean your career needs to end, it does not mean that your coworkers will treat you differently and it does not mean your fans will abandon you.

Only one active athlete in America’s Big Four sports is openly gay. I can’t say with certainty, but I do believe that jumping from zero to one is the hardest step of all, and over time it will rise to two, five, 10 and so on. Until then, congratulations to Jason Collins for embracing who he is and being brave enough to share that with the world. It’s high time a member of the Big Four was this open.

Yoni Muller is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].