Jason Collins’ coming out article in
Sports Illustrated isn’t just about being gay.It’s about battling an external cultural imperative to hide who he is.
The key line, “I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie.”
Collins lived a double life — getting engaged to a woman, hiding his secret from his twin brother, and spending sleepless nights worrying that he’d out himself by saying the wrong thing.
It was fear, he said, that kept him living a false life.
Collins’ courage isn’t in being gay, it’s in overcoming the fear that has keep every other active NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB player from coming out.
That fear is a function of discrimination, which makes this story, at it’s core, a story of a public figure overcoming discrimination in historic fashion.
That’s not the only reason why it matters.
When you read between the lines of Collins’ letter, you find some some of the stereotypes about homosexuality that are still pervasive in our culture.
Collins mentions that some players will be shocked that he’s gay because he’s such a tough big man, as if being gay has an effect on a the physicality of a player.
He also mentions that he’s been in NBA showers for 12 years and nothing will change, directly addressing the concern that gay players are going to start hitting on naked straight players.
The fact that these two stereotypes exist shows that we still have a long way to go.
Collins was afraid to come out and felt he had to live a lie. That’s not some individual impulse, that’s the function of a society with specific prejudices against homosexuality in male sports.
In coming out, he broke a barrier and became an example to every future gay athlete that you don’t have to be afraid, and that the pressure to live a lie can be overcome.