Opening Doors in Pro Sports

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For years, I have editorialized that most athletes could care less if their teammate screwed a camel as long as he could take two and hit a line drive to right to drive in a run. In short, help your teammates win and they will look the other way at your personal life.

Jason Collins happens to be a gay athlete who plays professional basketball. He is on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week because he came out of the closet while his career is still in play.

Collins is a free agent this year, who will find a role on some team next year. He is a journeyman back up center who has played on many teams. Beginning today, he is playing on our team as well.

Whether you are a teacher in a Catholic school or a professional athlete, you no longer walk alone as a gay American. From President Obama to the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, Gary Stern, professionals, peers, and the media have supported Collins publicly and personally.

We live in a country that eventually embraces the rights of people seeking them. Professional sports have had gay athletes in them, of course. Go into the Alibi on Wilton Drive, and you will find on the walls in a glass case the uniform of a professional gay athlete who pitched in a World Series for a major league team over 25 years ago.

Decades ago, coming out was not an option. The fear was because many people did not accept who they were, let alone asking others to do so in the closed and closeted world of professional sports. The locker room culture can be brutal, and few dared break tradition. Inevitably, when an athlete discussed his sexuality, it came after his career was over, at a time when he could no longer be bullied.

Today, gay men and lesbians own and have operated professional sport teams, and have already come out of the closet, from Laura Ricketts of the Chicago Cubs to Kevin McClatchy of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Rick Welts was the General Manager of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns when he came out in 2011. Transparency is healthy, and always has been.

As Shakespeare wrote, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Each time someone comes out, no matter what uniform you wear, another wall falls down. With the words, “I’m gay,” Jason Collins shatters a barrier others were not willing to break. He makes it easier for the next guy, whose story won’t matter as much.

The irony is that our paper has profiled openly gay athletes in high schools. More and more, younger people pave the way in society. We ought to listen to what they have to say. Here is hoping the U.S. Supreme Court does when they decide DOMA later this spring.

People are being asked today the significance of what Jason Collins has done. It is simple, really. That it is so newsworthy means our challenge, as an LGBT community is still real; our goals not yet accomplished.

Full acceptance of LGBT life in America will have arrived when someone comes out of the closet and it is no longer news. Full acceptance will come when you tell someone you are reading the South Florida Gay News, and they ask you why you need a gay paper.

We each play a role in making LGBT life more an acceptable measure in society. We do it by living honorable lives in the daytime today, making our sexuality irrelevant.

Anderson Cooper is a journalist, Adam Lambert is an entertainer, and Jason Collins is a basketball player. You may be a cop or a construction worker, a doctor or a diva. What you do and whom you do is not nearly as important as who you are.

The ‘Wireless’ catalogue has a little plaque you can purchase online. It reads, ‘My goal in life is to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.’

You don’t even need Shakespeare to tell you how to live. It does not matter whether you are shooting baskets as a pro athlete or heading up a gay and straight alliance in a local high school, you win the battle of life by showing up, playing hard and doing the right thing.

Norm Kent


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