April 29, 2013

First gay athelete comes "out of the closet" in major team sport

Jason Collins / Kwaku Alston for Sports Illustrated
No, not a retired athlete. An active player.

Jason Collins, I stand up and salute you. This is a must read.
I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.
Add in that Collins is black ... and how black males, sex on the down low, and related issues have been land mines on gay, black, and intertwined issues, including California's Proposition 8, and this is doubly huge.

Fortunately, as far as easing his journey, both Kobe Bryant and Commissioner David Stern have his back. Kobe's Kobe, and, who knows what really happened in Colorado years ago. But, kudos to him to speaking up in support right away, too.

Meanwhile, a snippet of his "journey":
The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. "I've known you were gay for years," she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you're in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know -- I baked for 33 years. 
So, if you don't know someone who's gay, that's a snippet of what it's like.

At the same time, Collins is not your typical US pro athlete, black or white:
I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston's 2012 Gay Pride Parade.  
Nor is he your "stereotypical gay," per his own words:
Though Shaquille O'Neal is a Hall of Famer, I never shirked from the challenge of trying to frustrate the heck out of him. (Note to Shaq: My flopping has nothing to do with being gay.)  ...

I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I've always been an aggressive player, even in high school.  
Well, and simply, put.

Finally, he knows his "position." And, although due to team loyalty, he felt he couldn't "come out" during the season, he was still sending a message, or trying to, with his jersey playing number of 98, which is not the norm in the NBA, or any sport:
My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards. The number has great significance to the gay community. One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was finally found.
I hope what seems to be an engaging personality, along with his intelligence, transfers to support in the locker room. His No. 98 gesture has touched Shepard's parents.

One issue, though. He's technically not an active player. He's a free agent. But, with his background, even if he's the last man on the bench, dammit, some team had better sign him.

Nonetheless, it's a bit of fly in the ointment that he's technically not an active player. A 12-year vet like him, as a role player reserve, might not have gotten a new contract without this, and his announcement is going to complexify things.

On that note, ESPN's Mark Stein says it's about 50-50, among 14 NBA representatives in an anonymous survey, that he's back next year.

And, I've blogged before about black gay men, especially, and the issue of sex on the down low. Collins had a fiancee at one time, in an 8-year-relationship. She says she never knew, never even suspected.

And, per Jason Whitlock, the "haters" are out, too. Wow, Tim Brando just went WAY down in my book.


Meanwhile, back in the state of Texas, the homophobic Greg Abbott says that local governments cannot offer domestic partners insurance benefits.

Here's the details:
In the nonbinding opinion, Abbott determined that local jurisdictions that offer such benefits “have created and recognized something” — domestic partnerships — “not established by Texas law.” 

“A court is likely to conclude that the domestic partnership legal status about which you inquire is ‘similar to marriage’ and therefore barred” by the state Constitution, he wrote. 

The opinion was a response to a question asked by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who had raised concerns about the Pflugerville school district, as well as the cities of El Paso, Austin and Fort Worth, extending such benefits to domestic partners.
Of course it was Dan Patrick who asked him for his opinion. It's in light of House Bill 1568. Per the Trib, the bill would "revoke the accreditation and withhold funding from Texas school districts that allow employees to add a domestic partner to their health care plan." It's passed committee level and is headed to the floor.

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