By Steve Silverman
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A new era has dawned in America.
Jason Collins has taken the step that no other male athlete in our four major professional sports had dared to take before him. He is gay, and his public declaration of his sexuality in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated is a huge step to make the world a more decent place.
Professional sports is the vehicle that Collins uses to make his living. He is good enough to have played NBA basketball since the 2001-02 season. However, he’s not a star. He is a bench player who has made minor contributions throughout his career.
Collins, 34, may not have a lot of time left in his career. But he is smart and effective, and as a free agent, should have at least one or two years left.
His announcement in Sports Illustrated has been building for years.
There have been plenty of rumblings from the NFL in recent seasons that gay players might soon come out. Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings and free agent special-teams contributor Brendon Ayanbadejo have offered statements of support for equality and acceptance on and off the field.
The NHL has set up a huge support system for any gay player with its “You Can Play” agenda. The league’s philosophy is that any player who is good enough to play hockey is welcome to play, regardless of sexuality.
The environment has been changing for a long time, but Collins has made the biggest step with his announcement.
The connection has been made to Jackie Robinson’s ascension as the first black player in Major League Baseball history in 1947.
It’s an apt comparison.
The movie “42” gives us a feature-film look at the Robinson experience. There was nothing subtle about Robinson’s move to professional baseball. He was greeted by contempt and race hatred at so many different steps.
Those who knew the story or have seen the movie can only be shocked at the actions of Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman, who went after Robinson with a viciousness born from generational hatred.
Sixty-six years have passed since Robinson broke the color line. Now Collins will face his own challenges as he breaks another barrier.
He is not the impact player in his sport that Robinson was in his, but there are many similarities to their makeup. There’s an intelligence, a thoughtfulness and an optimism that both men demonstrated.
Robinson knew that he was taking a big step for himself and a biggest step for future black baseball players.
Collins is making a big step for himself and a huge one for other professional athletes who decide to stop hiding their sexuality.
But the biggest step that Robinson took was for greater society. Robinson came to the big leagues, and that was really one of the most important steps in the Civil Rights movement. Many were emboldened the day Robinson played his first game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
Who knows how many black people said, “If he can do it, I can do it.”
Who knows how many white people realized that the old ways were wrong and that Robinson and other black people deserved their opportunities from that moment going forward.
Collins’ actions seem likely to have a similar impact on society.
Gay people have been denied their rights and opportunities because of their sexuality for generations. Progress has been made and Collins’ announcement is one more step in the process of acceptance.
Breaking through the elite and macho world of professional sports is a huge step. It’s visible and very obvious.
Pro sports is one of the most important barriers to cross for social acceptance. Those who don’t want to acknowledge it are just burying their heads in the sand.
Unlike Robinson, Collins has gotten many statements of support.
He has also seen a bit of a backlash, primarily from those who hide behind religion.
But Collins is ready for his journey and has taken the important first step.
It’s important for him.
It’s important for sports.
It’s important for humanity.
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