So this tweet has been circulating on both Twitter and Facebook. And while I read the news and am a self-proclaimed current events addict, I thought, “Who’s Jason Collins?” because, while I consider myself a sports fan, I do not follow the NBA. I took to Google. It turns out this famous veteran basketball player has come out of the closet. My next response was some combination of the following: “Ok,” “Who cares?” “Why is this a big deal?” “Of course there are gay NBA players. Just like there are gay teachers, doctors, underwater welders, postal carriers, etc.”
But apparently the media thought more of Collins’s story than I did. My favorite sports opinion writer compared Collins coming out to African-Americans being allowed to play baseball. (See article here) And maybe it’s true. I can see the Gay-rights struggle as loosely similar to America’s earlier civil rights movement. What I cannot see, however, is how anyone can be upset about Collins’s announcement, as the attached picture indicates, and the comparison to being Christian seemed silly to me.
First of all, we really have to stop seeing Tim Tebow as any kind of victim. He makes millions of dollars to do a fairly unimportant (though occasionally entertaining) job. If the media wants to question his method of drawing attention to himself, why is it any different from their disdain for touchdown dances or post-play scuffles? Furthermore, Christians aren’t persecuted or denied any rights in 21st century America. Therefore, it’s not really dangerous or controversial to be “outed” as a Christian. It’s pretty standard. Just ask Tony Dungy, Steve Young, Kurt Warner, Shaun Alexander or any other guy who prays for a W from the sidelines. The media don’t bash these guys because they don’t use their faith to draw attention to themselves. (Please know I’m referring more to the act of “Tebowing” than to publicly discussing his faith). The message to Tebow wasn’t necessarily one of “keep it to yourself” as the picture indicates, but more a message of “so are all these other people, yet they aren’t showboating.”
Similarly, I struggle to see Collins as a hero the way these articles are trying to portray him. His coming out doesn’t make it any easier for a gay teenager to walk the halls at school. It doesn’t free gay couples from judgmental glares in public or allow them the right to marry. Most gay people struggle with coming out, and Collins just happens to have the notoriety to come out in a big way. In fact, I figure I’m in the majority of all people (gay or not) when I read about his coming out, and my life went on as usual. At the very most, Collins put the sports world in a situation where they had to make a statement on gay rights, but that does very little for most of the gay population. Was he brave? Sure. A hero? I’m not willing to go that far. I want to be careful before pronouncing him the Jackie Robinson of this generation for two reasons: those are really big shoes to fill, and it has yet to be seen if he actually improved circumstances for others.
So why did I feel drawn to post about this subject, you may be asking? Because I want to make something very clear: When a person makes a bold assertion about themselves, we do not have to take it as an attack on whatever we identify with. The picture above suggests that Tebow is shunned because of his Christianity, which is far from true (just check his salary last year). Similarly, the attitude that Collins being gay attacks your straightness is far from productive. Both Tebow and Collins can be examples of courage. You see, Tebow admitting his Christianity is certainly brave in the sense that parts of society do not agree with him. He is openly Christian in a typically non-religious atmosphere. But the same can certainly be said of Collins, who is openly gay in a place where it was previously thought gay men didn’t dare go. It’s scary to go out on a limb and own who you are — no matter if it’s your religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or diet choices. Not everyone will agree with you all the time. And people who feel comfortable enough in their own skin should be celebrated.
This reminds me of two of my favorite quotes, both from ee cummings:
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. “
“To be nobody-but-yourself–in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else–means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
Tebow and Collins are human, and being a human is hard. This world needs all kinds of people. Maybe instead of demanding that everyone to be like us, we should just acknowledge courage when we come across it.