By Eric Thomas
Jason Collins is a Center for the Washington Wizards. He played at Stanford and made the cover of Sports Illustrated during his years there. He’s made the cover a second time; this one will be far more remembered. On April 29th, he became the first active player of any sport ever to publicly admit his homosexual preference.
The anthill has been kicked and a thousand voices will attempt to measure the aftermath. NBA security questions, team mate questions and the ever present wonder if an organization can take this or will it wilt under the pressure? These questions are, of course, ridiculous. Sports has handled much worse and come out intact on the other side.
The question that remains is a personal one. How are you going to react to this? Understand, before you speak, that the answer will hang around your neck forever. This is one of those seminal moments in sports. The first of anything, no matter what your personal feelings are, are a signpost. Your children, grandchildren and their friends will ask. How did you react when this happened? This moment, and only this moment, is when you decide. When they ask you this question, will you answer proudly? Will you be the person portrayed as a braying bigot, who stands on their seat and screams a man for being what he is? History, no matter what era or country, always honors benevolence. What are you going to do?
The problem is that crusades happen on both sides. Bigots always butt heads against those who seek to eliminate bigotry. Those forces, sadly, are already engaged. Plenty of commenter’s are already prompting NBA Security to beef up, warning them to carry trash bags for signs and keep their ears to the ground for any utterance of an epithet or slur. These crusaders always make things worse, not better.
Jason Collins has bravely offered himself as the proverbial pound of flesh, painted a target on himself and his bravery will smoke out the disgusting among us. We will know those who hate. We will know who is judgmental. Those people will be in the rows near ours, hands coned around their mouths so that their message will meet the ears of the person whom they want to hear it the most.
Before we remove the signs, tell the bigots to sit down, let’s stay our hands. Remember that bigotry always finds strength in anonymity. The KKK hid underneath hoods, Neo-Nazis shave their heads and wear uniforms to abandon their individuality. Let’s do the opposite and let them speak. Mr. Collins has decided to reveal himself, now if there are people who want to scream at him, let them. Let them come out of their own closet. Let these messages rain until there is no more to say, since there is no better commercial against bigotry than the bigot themselves. You will never eradicate hate, but you can expose it and that’s what makes it go away. The gay rights movement didn’t accelerate until you heard the name Matthew Shepard. So it goes.
As much as we must all appreciate Mr. Collins, for essentially inviting nonstop hassle into his life, the moment cannot be missed. Let people say what they will and it’s your responsibility to engage this debate. Regardless of what side, it’s up to you to talk about it. Maybe you’re not a bigot, but it makes you uncomfortable. If that’s the case, say why and explain it. If you live on the fringe and throw bombs, you can’t participate in the debate. We all get smarter through discussion and that doesn’t mean soaking in the sound of things you agree with. It means having debates and explaining your ideas, knowing that you might not change minds at that moment but that thought you planted might grow.
So here’s the chance. What will you do with this moment?