Hot Take: Gays in Sports, Society

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Jason Collins and Michael Sam were the first openly gay NBA and NFL players, respectively. (espn.com)

I think everyone reading this can agree on at least one thing; Sunday morning’s terrorist attack in Orlando was an absolute tragedy. However, all 300 million of us in the US and countless others around the world all have their different responses to the tragedy; how we can heal, and how to prevent this from happening again. Obviously this isn’t a political blog, so I’ll leave gun control and the fight against “Radical Islam” at the door, and just focus on the issue of homophobia raised by this tragedy in the context of sports.

When Jason Collins first came out as gay in 2013, becoming the first to do so in major American pro sports, my reaction was probably pretty similar to anyone else’s: Who is this? Do I really care?

Let’s be honest with ourselves here; Collins was an absolute nobody in the league before he came out publicly and shortly after he was once again a nobody. When I went to google some info on Collins for this blog, he wasn’t even the top recommendation. Instead, WNY Flash assistant coach Tim Collinsworth was. That’s right, a women’s soccer assistant coach is more searched nowadays than the first man to ever come out of the closet in pro sports, which begs the question; does it really even matter in today’s era if an athlete is gay or not?

When Magic Johnson abruptly retired after his HIV diagnosis in 1991, it was a hot button issue in sports. The question was not if he’d put other players at risk by continuing to play, but if he’d even live to see his friends play in the 1992 Olympics. Obviously, all of this was a complete overreaction, as Magic played plenty of basketball again before being done for good after the 1995-96 season without so much as giving another player a cold. But, Magic’s quick retirement and subsequently finding out how unnecessary it all was is really the same as it was when Collins came out. Did it really matter that Magic had HIV? Did it actually matter that Jason Collins was gay? Of course not. Magic was still an awesome basketball player (he had a PER of 21.1 in 32 games in 1996), and Jason Collins was out of the league the next season.

We can obviously, of course, follow this up with countless other shock developments in the world of sports which haven’t had any real bearing on the person or player that they were, such as Michael Sam’s run of fame a few years back. At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter to how his NFL career turned out, and really was a waste of everyone’s time as he was cut before the season even began. It is in this way that sports has a quality society desperately needs; the ability to accept someone based on what they contribute instead of on other factors like sexual orientation and race.

I’ve been in my fair share of locker rooms from growing up and playing sports throughout childhood all the way through High School. Not once was I worried while changing or taking a shower, walking around in boxers that a gay guy was going to somehow fantasize about me or try to do something to me or with me. The point is, there are always going to be gay guys in the locker room, it’s just whether you know if they’re gay or not. It’s time to accept that and move on with it. The more we say hush hush or try to make it a taboo subject, the more we encourage people to hurt others by trying to be straight and live a “normal” life, getting married and having kids and lying to everyone about how they truly feel. Just look at Trey Pearson and his story, and imagine the confusion and hurt for everyone involved.

Society doesn’t need everyone to welcome gay marriage with open arms. They don’t need everyone marching in gay pride parades or fighting against transgender bathroom bills. It really doesn’t even need you to approve of the whole being gay thing privately. But, what I think we should all do in cases where someone is open about their sexuality is take a step back and breathe.

First of all, it’s 2016, it’s going to happen whether you like it or not. And second, remember how little of an effect someone being gay has on you or your life. In the same way Magic Johnson’s HIV had no bearing on his playing ability, nor did Jason Collins being openly gay preserve a more permanent spot in the league for him, it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter if someone likes men or women. Eventually, if we let it go, we are casually reminded that nothing changed by this “major” announcement, even if we don’t see it. Maybe, just maybe, if we remembered this instead of running toward judgement, we just might find the world to have become a better place because of it.

 

 

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