Inquirer Editorial: Lying no longer the game plan

NBA veteran center Jason Collins on the May 6, 2013, cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. Collins on Monday became the first active male professional athlete in the major four North American sports leagues to come out as gay. (AP Photo/Sports Illustrated, Kwaku Alston)
NBA veteran center Jason Collins on the May 6, 2013, cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. Collins on Monday became the first active male professional athlete in the major four North American sports leagues to come out as gay. (AP Photo/Sports Illustrated, Kwaku Alston) (AP)
Posted: May 01, 2013

Comparisons of Jackie Robinson, who integrated Major League Baseball, with Jason Collins, the National Basketball Association player who this week revealed he is a homosexual, can only be taken so far.

For one thing, the men made history at opposite ends of their professions. Robinson's 1947 debut was the beginning of an all-star career that propelled him into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Collins' revelation comes as his otherwise unremarkable 12-year stint in the NBA nears its end.

It's also highly unlikely that Collins, if he plays next season, will endure anything close to the racist insults hurled at Robinson by white baseball fans as well as opposing players and coaches here in Philadelphia and other cities back when segregation was still the law in some states.

Yet, there's no denying that Collins' decision to reveal his sexuality, in the same vein as Robinson's agreeing to put his personal safety in peril to blaze a trail, was an act of courage. Collins could have kept quiet as he finished his season with the Washington Wizards. Instead, he opened a door that for too long had been closed.

"I've always been scared of saying the wrong thing," Collins said in a Sports Illustrated article. "But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie."

Collins wants to play in the NBA next season, but given his diminished statistics in what was already being called the twilight of his career, that's no guarantee. Further testing the waters of acceptance may be left to others in pro sports, which have seen several women, but no active male athlete before Collins, come out.

Former tennis champion Martina Navratilova, who was involuntarily outed 32 years ago, believes others will quickly follow Collins' lead. "Back then, you were looked frowningly upon by 95 percent of the population, like some pervert," she said. "I think it's going to be completely the reverse. He's going to get huge support, and it's the homophobes now that are getting shushed."

Because attitudes on homosexuality have changed, Collins, like Robinson, could inspire others to be bold. Robinson's determination to excel despite all obstacles made him a beacon for civil rights. He helped usher in an era in which Jim Crow laws died and voting rights statutes were born, eventually making African American voters a decisive force in electing the first black president.

As this nation tries to figure out how to handle evolving gender roles and the mounting pressure to make gay marriage legal in every state, the public's relatively benign reaction to Collins' revelation should be considered by any deliberative body - court or legislature - in making decisions about those issues.

Gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans can no more expect discrimination to disappear because of Collins' openness than black people expected prejudice to end because Robinson integrated baseball. But the times are changing.

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