Yesterday morning, news broke that the cover of the May 6th issue of Sports Illustrated will feature a picture of NBA player Jason Collins beaming at the camera alongside a headline that reads, "The Gay Athlete." In the issue, Collins penned a piece with sports writer Frank Lidz that begins, "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." As Jon Wertheim, executive editor of SI, wrote in a post about the interview, "Collins becomes the first active male athlete in a major U. S. team sport to come out of the closet. Yes, that's a lot of qualifiers."
The qualifiers are necessary. John Amaechi and Wade Davis first spoke openly about their sexuality after retiring. Megan Rapinoe, a star U.S. women's soccer player, acknowledged last summer that she was gay. Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King both played professional tennis while out. Sheryl Swoopes, the first woman to get her own Nike shoe named after her, came out in 2005, while still playing for the Houston Comets.
And less than two weeks ago, one of the most prominent female basketball players in recent years, 6-foot 8-inch Brittney Griner, casually mentioned that she was gay in an interview with Sports Illustrated. "I've always been open about who I am and my sexuality," Griner said, "So it wasn't hard at all" for her to talk publicly about it. She had just been drafted #1 overall in the WNBA draft and was discussing sexuality and sports in a joint interview with Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins, the number 2 and number 3 draftees respectively. Delle Donne, when asked how she would feel sharing a locker room with an openly gay player like Griner, responded, "In our sport [women's basketball], we're fine with it...Hopefully the men can one day adopt that same attitude that we have."
The response to Griner was, as the New York Times put it, a collective shrug in the sports world. Not so much with Collins.