Column: Heading the right way
"Jason Collins tore open the last remaining closet in America," said Brian Ellner, founding owner of Athlete Ally. "This is a piece of history, an important point on the continuum toward justice and a moment to celebrate."
This week Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, signed with the Brooklyn Nets and played in a game, making strides toward redefining sports culture. Collins, a 12-year veteran of the NBA, signed a 10-day contract with the Nets after becoming a free agent last season and announcing he is gay.
Collins will sport the number 98 jersey with the Nets as a tribute to Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student who in 1998 died in an anti gay hate crime. Besides this gesture, it is back to basketball business for Collins. He said he wants to focus on the game rather than history.
Although the nation has greatly improved on acceptance and understanding with the gay community, the culture of sports is still set in their ways. Between the locker room talk that has been put in the spotlight recently, or Kobe Bryant calling a referee a "f____ing f____" last season, this issue is still prevalent. It shouldn't matter a player's sexual preference, race, religion or anything of the sort. Sports are for the love of the game, if these players are good at what they do, why should it matter? Why should it matter at all anyway?
Between Collins officially signing with an NBA team and Michael Sam announcing he is gay before the NFL draft, this seems like a long overdue movement that will revolutionize sports in a positive way. Although this is a hot topic in the sports world, one thing's for sure: Brooklyn seems to be the perfect fit for yet another historical moment. It is not only the place where Collins made his debut after his announcement, but it is also home to Jackie Robinson, the first African American player in baseball's history. Although this is a mere coincidence, Brooklyn is making a statement of acceptance that will continue to revolutionize sports and history.
Collins becomes part of the leadership in accepting athletes for who they are, and is also one of the few athletes spearheading a change in the professionalism of sports. Over the past few years, athletics have placed non-discrimination policies as well as partnerships with the You Can Play project to push acceptance and change in the sports atmosphere. Although this was a great gesture, it just did not seem impactful enough. There was no face to the movement; it did not seem as genuine as they would have hoped. Now that Collins is back in the NBA and playing, he legitimizes the cause for a start to a movement.
Although Collins is 35 years old and some may say he is not good enough for the NBA or past his prime, he proves to the sports world that change is happening. The locker room talk, slurs and bullying will come to an end. This is a big moment in sports, however it should not only be about gay players opening up. There should not be a buzz or shock, this should simply be applauded and accepted. Any player can identify as whatever they want and that's it, end of discussion, now back to sports.
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