The Time is Now, Jason Collins
Jason Collins is black and gay. Who is Collins and why do these things matter? Some background: Collins is a good (albeit not great) active NBA basketball player, which means he is better than 99.99% of the basketball players in the world. This week, he became the first active athlete in the USA’s “Big Four” of team sports (baseball, basketball, football, and hockey) to come out as a gay man.
This is a huge deal. In fact, it’s Jackie-Robinson-huge.
In 1947, Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie for two reasons: One, it was the right thing to do, and two, Rickey knew the Negro Leagues were loaded with talent that would help his Dodgers compete and, he hoped, ultimately win. We are all aware of the hate heaped upon Jackie in the MLB by players, fans, and the media. We are all aware of the injustices suffered by black Americans during the post-Civil War era. We are also well aware of what a more just society has meant to Jews throughout modern history. Jews admired Jackie Robinson - and we continue to.
In 2013, Jason Collins, influenced by the tragic Boston Marathon bombings and the support of his family, realized the time was right. In Sports Illustrated's April 29th issue, he said,
I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.
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.
Noted sports journalist Stephen A. Smith was quoted as saying that any comparisons between Jackie and Jason are “ridiculous. End of story.” Smith is wrong; the comparisons are glaring. In 1940, Robinson represented 10% of the US population – a marginalized, segregated, oft-criminalized population. In 2013, Jason Collins, represents about 5-10% of another marginalized, segregated, oft-criminalized population. Robinson was less than thrilled about being the first black man in modern major-league baseball. Like Collins, he wished he weren’t the kid waving his hand – but he was. And Collins is.
Robinson made his reputation as a tough, hard-as-nails second baseman who took crap from no one. Collins has always been the guy who set the picks, takes the charges, knocks guys to the floor – in other words, a tough, hard-as-nails center who takes crap from no one. In the NBA, Collins will always have a spot on a team, until time and age catch up with him.
So yes, Jason Collins’s coming out is a huge deal – but it’s also sad. It’s sad because in 2013, no one should be judged based upon who one loves. It’s sad because no one should have to “come out” at all. It’s sad because, though the media has gleefully reported on the many supportive tweets Collins has received, I’ve read hundreds of other tweets directed at his Twitter account, @jasoncollins34 – and what hasn’t been mentioned in the media is the massive amount of hate Collins has received. I find it nothing short of disgusting that so many individuals are filled with such self-righteousness and judgment that they feel compelled to open up brand new Twitter accounts (yes, people joined Twitter just to do this!) to press their own demons upon a man who is telling the world something that is truly none of our business. As a Jew, I know the bile being spewed at Jason Collins because it has just as easily been spewed at us.
I wish that those who hate – and who chose to selectively quote from their loathsome personal interpretation of the Bible to justify their hate –would read Hillel the Elder:
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.
I can’t fathom how unhappy the lives of those who thrive on hate and theater must be. I have compassion for them, but no respect. Hillel asked,
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?
To Jason Collins, and the men that will follow him: You are for yourselves, you are brave, and now is the time.