Dropping the Soap for Jason Collins

The Glass Half Foolish
Again, I digress. In my defense, however, this is fairly big news. How big, you ask? Seven feet tall, 255 lbs, professional athlete, in your face, I like dudes. That big. I wish we lived in a world where the  revelation of sexual identification would not so easily start a media feeding frenzy, but we don’t. It has been only hours and already the turbulent network waters are full of bloodthirsty journalists and blathering, opinionated piranhas eager for a taste. It is hard to blame them. After all it is their carnivorous nature, and openly gay, 34-year-old, NBA center Jason Collins is an irresistibly tempting piece of succulent chum. And yes, even I am biting.
In addition to the endless, razor-sharp, op-ed mastication that this high-profile coming out will elicit – mine included – there will also be a very public show of support. First Lady tweets, fellow athlete shout outs, and presidential phone calls of support. People like me, Michelle, Kobe and Barack will praise Collins for his courage; and rightly so, because sadly often just being who you are takes a great deal of bravery. Debate will continue over the possible value he may have as a player to any team that might be willing to take him on before the start of next season, versus the colossal distraction his presence might bring – both courtside and in the locker room. And valuations will be made regarding the importance of his coming out as a free agent, as opposed to being a contracted player.
My guess is that there will be those who will applaud Collins for the timing of his admission, as well as those who will admonish – perhaps citing some ulterior motives. He will be damned and praised, courted and hazed, paraded, degraded, and berated. His simple, honest essay describing an ordinary and profound journey to self-awareness and public truth will be lauded and scrutinized. The glass half full crowd will cheerfully gush about how far we have come, and the glass half empties will bemoan how far we have yet to travel. And of course the glass half foolish, like me, will recognize and celebrate the fact that both summations are true. There will be reminiscences of those who have tested the perilous waters of out and proud athletics before Collins, and speculation about who may be diving in on his heels. In addition, I am personally holding my breath that perhaps there may be some substantive public discourse at some point on the topic of race and religion in relation to homophobia. 
The critical bottom line is that the conversation regarding homosexuality in the top four professional, male sporting arenas has begun. And my hope is that it will continue for as long as it needs to. Unfortunately, however, if the topic of racism can be used as an accurate barometer – and I believe that it can – on just how difficult these types of dialogues can be to initiate and sustain, I may have to side with the glass half empties on just how far I truly believe this current whirlpool of words will get us. Nevertheless, Jason Collins seems to be a good and earnest ice-breaker. In the very least it should keep banter around the water cooler fueled until at least the start of basketball season – and longer if he indeed gets a shot at a thirteenth professional season.
A few years back I heard a newly elected President Obama speak at a Human Rights Campaign gathering in Washington DC the night before a national gay rights march and rally. Still then not ready to openly support the cause of equal rights for all Americans, Obama explained that he could not get on national television and encourage young people across the country to come out. His reasoning was logical, if not cowardice and placating. He explained to the crowded room of potential donors that some, or many, of those closeted young people were in dangerous environments without support and he could not knowingly prod them into harms way. He justified his silence on the matter as an act of protection. In the time since that speech Barack has been elected to a second term, filmed an “it gets better” spot, openly opposed DOMA, repealed don’t ask don’t tell, and most recently has come out in favor of marriage equality.
As is often his style, the president chose to lead by decorum rather than by decree. I also think that he had a clear sense of the changing tide and decided on the course most easily navigable. Jason Collins, on the other hand, decided to jump right into the deep end of the pool. Yes, at age 34, some will say that he waited until rather late in the game. “I’ve reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want,” Collins says. So undoubtedly there will be those who will say that he did not have much to lose. But every story of self-discovery is uniquely complex and frightening. The truth is that he stands to lose much. It seems refreshingly clear, however, from the story he has shared so far that he believes that he has much much more to gain. And thanks to the current conversation and Jason Collins’ continuing courage, I believe that we all have much to gain from all this talk. And forever half glass foolish, I also believe that the world we live in today is a droplet less divided, and a driblet more contentious than it was just yesterday.