I began to write this column knowing wholeheartedly that, by doing so, I would be immediately undermining the point I wish to make. Still, I feel strongly enough about the subject that I was willing to give it a shot.
I want to begin by asking the media as a whole a simple question. What on Earth are we doing with this Jason Collins story? Let’s really step back for a moment and think about what happened yesterday. Jason Collins, a veteran NBA player, became the first active professional athlete in the United States’ four major sports to “come out” publicly and announce that he is gay. When you put it that way, it’s easy to see why this has become such a massive story in the sports world and beyond.
Make no mistake, this was a notable event. It’s worthy of reflection, significance and discussion, but on day two of this post-homosexual-professional-American-athlete world, this has devolved into something that I’m not sure Jason Collins can even be proud of.
Let me explain. Before yesterday, we knew there were professional athletes with varying sexual preferences in America. Very few people would dispute that what happened was a likely scenario. So, when Jason Collins took a commendable step in disclosing details about his orientation, there was a palpable sense of relief in his words. There was a feeling of relief from his audience as well. In the immortal words of one Bob Sugar, “Finally, someone said it.”
As cathartic an experience as it was, the purity of Collins’ acknowledgement lasted just about twenty-four hours. Today, the prevailing narrative has completely shifted from one man’s brave declaration to something far less noble.
Today, the story seems to be about how “we” are all supposed to deal with this. How are the “rest of us” supposed to treat Jason Collins and other gay athletes? How should a team deal with his locker-room presence next season? The news cycle has been dominated by this story and it’s “ripple-effect.” It’s become a national sensation, but those peripheral distractions should not be so paramount to the discussion.
Maybe I’m naive for thinking that the bigger this story becomes, the less progressive our society seems. I don’t feel like talking about how much of a bombshell this is reflects very well on our tolerance at all. At what point does the media cross that fine line between covering a story and covering themselves, covering a story? Wherever that threshold may be, I can’t help but feel that it’s somewhere behind us.
I could be wrong. This story might warrant such incessant dissection. There is no doubt that Jason Collins did something courageous and noteworthy yesterday. Perhaps his affirmation should have been given a little more room to breathe, though. I think we should be coming to a point in our nation’s history where Jason Collins is looked at as a professional basketball player who happens to be gay and not a gay man who happens to play basketball.