The Human Triumph of the NBA's First Openly Gay Player

Gay, straight, bisexual, or whatever, this is a great day for anyone who believes in liberty. And it's a proud day for anyone who believes in the power of sports to change lives. Patrick, as our resident Wizards' fan, give us your take on the big news.


As a Washington Wizards fan, I couldn't care less. As a human being, I couldn't care more. This is a really big deal—and as you smartly note, someday it won't be. Which is exactly why it's a really big deal.

The closeting of human identity is the closeting of human potential. It makes all of us poorer in the end.

Look, bigotry will never die. Collins's courageous gesture won't kill it. Racism, homophobia, sexism, tribalism, intolerance, cruelty, hatred, fear, insecurity, ostracizing of the dreaded other: all are enduring aspects of human existence, of our collective character. Then again, so are kindness and empathy. And those qualities are our saving grace. They allow us to overcome our worst instincts, our insistence on dividing the world into us and them. They allow us to accept teammates who look, act and believe differently. They allow us to accept teammates who aren't even teammates. They allow us to see one another for who we really are, as individuals, flawed and sublime and deserving of respect. Of basic human dignity. Of love.

I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay. With three wonderfully simple sentences, Collins has taken a progressive baton from Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Dave Kopay, Gareth Thomas, David Testo, Amaechi, Griner and so many others; like them, he has made it incrementally easier for gay athletes to be who they are, fully and publicly, without shame or fear or shunning; like them, he has done everyone—gay and straight, accepting and not-so-much—a tremendous service, because the closeting of human identity is the closeting of human potential. It makes all of us poorer in the end. Consider this from Collins's remarkable first-person essay in Sports Illustrated:

The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. "I've known you were gay for years," she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you're in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know—I baked for 33 years.

When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.

Put yourself in Collins's shoes. It's not hard. Anyone who has ever been afraid of rejection—which is to say, everyone—can relate. Sexuality is irrelevant. Sooner or later, we all bake. Imagine the lack of joy, the sheer, inescapable loneliness, a lifetime seeking support with a finger planted on the censor button, wondering if anyone will embrace you for being, you know, you. Now realize how utterly unnecessary all of that should be. How unnecessary all of that actually is. Sports can be hugely symbolic, but in this case, sports is a small part of the larger picture. We have a short time on this planet. Life is hard enough, in ways great and small. Why make it harder for each other? Roger Ebert once said that "to make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts." He was right. For 34 years, Collins missed out on the world in a very real way. This was a crime. For 34 years, the world missed out on Collins. This was a crime, too.

I'm happy that's over. I'm happy Collins gets to be himself and be loved exactly for that. I hope his story helps others do the same. In 1938, researchers began a study that followed 268 Harvard undergraduate men for 75 years, measuring everything from personality type to IQ to drinking habits to family relationships, all to determine what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing; recently, longtime director George Valiant published a summation of the study's insights. The key takeaway, according to Valiant? "The 75 years and $25 million expended on the Grant Study points ... to a straightforward five-word conclusion: happiness is love. Full stop." Jason Collins is a 34-year-old NBA center. He's black. He's gay. Starting today, he is as free to pursue happiness as the rest of us. Full stop.


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Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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