Slam Dunk

05.01.13

Jason Collins Gets Media Bear Hug as the NBA Player Comes Out as Gay

The NBA player has been drawing loud applause for declaring he is gay, though one ESPN commentator ripped him for his ‘homosexual lifestyle.’ Howard Kurtz calls a foul.

The media world has utterly embraced Jason Collins for coming out as the first openly gay NBA player, practically giving him an ovation.

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Jason Collins (center) sparked a media frenzy in being the first male on a major American sports team to come out, with messages of support pouring in from all over the web, including from Andy Cohen, Kobe Bryant, NBA commissioner David Stern, and Bill Clinton. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty)

Indeed, the starting team did just that on Good Morning America, applauding on Tuesday after the program aired George Stephanopoulos’s exclusive interview with the journeyman athlete. “The way he has handled himself thus far has been so incredibly impressive,” Robin Roberts said.

From the moment Collins told his story in Sports Illustrated, he has been showered with praise. President Obama called him and later said at a news conference that Collins “seems like a terrific young man. And I told him I couldn’t be prouder of him,” citing Collins’s announcement as “one of the extraordinary measures of progress that we’ve seen in this country.” There were tweets of support from Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton. Several outlets compared him to Jackie Robinson as a trailblazer.

Maybe the media, and professional sports, are just several stutter-steps behind the country on this one. Americans seem to be taking the disclosure in stride. I know the news was billed as a cataclysmic event, as no male pro athlete in a major team sport had come out, so Collins deserves credit for stepping forward. But if anything, it sounds like a good career move, given the overwhelmingly positive reaction.

There was, however, one notable exception. Chris Broussard, an ESPN reporter, ripped Collins on the program Outside the Lines: “Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or openly, like premarital sex between heterosexuals. If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits. It says that, you know, that’s a sin.”

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With Jason Collins coming out, people from Kobe Bryant to Nancy Pelosi tweeted their support.

Broussard added that he could not characterize Collins “as a Christian” because he was “in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.”

Now an ESPN talking head is entitled to his opinion, but the phrase “homosexual lifestyle” is offensive. It suggests that people choose to be gay and that they are pursuing a promiscuous way of living, despite many being in committed relationships and fighting for the right to be married.

If Broussard believes that one can’t be both gay and Christian, well, that’s his business, though Andrew Sullivan, among many others, would beg to differ. But what the hell does that have to do with playing professional basketball?

Jason Collins is gay. He’s not going to become un-gay. There are undoubtedly other gay athletes in the NBA and other professional leagues who have chosen not to talk about their private lives.

Maybe the media, and professional sports, are just several stutter-steps behind the country on this one.

If Broussard wanted to argue that Collins should have kept his mouth shut, or that this sort of thing undermines the locker-room culture of sports teams, fine (although this is 2013, and even the United States military has dropped Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and come to grips with gays in its ranks). But where does he get off lecturing Collins about his religion and his sexuality?

An ESPN spokesman, by the way, expressed regret for Broussard’s comments becoming a “distraction,” adding: “ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.”

I get that most journalists tend to be left-leaning on social issues such as gay marriage. And that they sometimes forget that a significant if shrinking chunk of the country opposes same-sex marriage, as Barack Obama did before 2012.

If Collins had gotten on a soapbox and demanded universal gay marriage or plunged into other political issues, commentators of every stripe would be more than welcome to take him on.

But that isn’t what Collins did. He wrote in SI that he “didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’” He wished that some other athlete had taken the step before him.

Maybe the media are overreacting here, and when the second, third, or fourth athlete comes out, it will be old news. But for now, he is in the spotlight, and even for those made uncomfortable by the announcement, Collins deserves to be treated with respect. That part, at least, is a slam dunk.