Last week Jason Collins made history by announcing, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” In an article that appeared in Sports Illustrated, Collins went on to say:
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.
I didn’t immediately post about Collins because I wanted to see how people reacted. I have to admit that I am shocked [but so happy!] that public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. The president even called to congratulate him.
The coming out experience is a long road, much longer than anyone realizes. A non-heterosexual orientation is akin to a weight that rests ever so slightly on your chest. When you first realize you are carrying this weight, you hope that maybe you can drop it without anyone noticing. Maybe you can just carry it inside, shove it deep down in the back of your mind [or heart] and ignore it. It isn’t that heavy at first so you think, “I can bear this burden alone. I can handle it. No one will have to know.” Anything else would simply be weak. Passing the weight off to your friends, family, or the world would only bring conflict and heavy hearts to the ones you love.
But as you age, the weight grows heavier. It becomes harder and harder to ignore. And eventually, you have to let it go.
At 34 years of age, Collins faced the scariest part of the coming out journey with eloquence and bravery. On April 29, 2013, Collins let go of his weight. In the days since his announcement Collins has reflected on the public’s reaction:
Truthfully, this whole experience has been humbling and kind of overwhelming. What I’m doing has been done before in sports. There have been lots of other pioneers. I’m obviously the first to come out in this country in one of the four major pro sports — basketball, baseball, football, hockey. But some people would put soccer up there, too, and Robbie Rogers has already blazed a trail there. I’m just trying to live my life authentically. (Read the full article here).
Gay or straight, we can all learn something from Collins. This isn’t just a story about a gay man risking his career by coming out. This is a story about undeniable courage. Collins has shown us that there is a certain strength that comes with living an open and honest life. He has shown the world something that many of us already know: as hard as it is to be yourself in this world, it is even harder to be someone else.
Today, and every day after, I will be deeply thankful for Jason Collins. I will also be eternally grateful for those who have come before him, and for those who will certainly come afterwards.
Every day people take small steps to make this world a safer and more accepting place to live honestly. Last week it was Jason Collins. I wonder who it will be next week. Maybe it will be me. Maybe it will be you.