On Sunday, Jason Collins— a 7-foot tall defensive player for the Brooklyn Nets— made no points in the 11 minutes of game he played against the LA Lakers. But the crowd was cheering for him when his feet hit the court because he walked out as the first openly gay athlete in the history of the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL.
Collins came out in a Sports Illustrated article written last spring, after finishing the 2012-13 season with the Washington Wizards and becoming a free agent. He was not signed onto another team until hours before the game on Sunday, when he signed a 10-day contract with the Nets.
His presence in that game represents the first step in a major transformation in American professional sports, and shows that more people are becoming tolerant toward members of the LGBTQ community. And that’s a good thing, since they still face discrimination— maybe not with fire hoses and vicious police dogs, but through harassment and abuse in the workplace and the locker room.
Discrimination due to sexual orientation clearly violates human rights and dignity. And no, I’m not talking about gay marriage—I’m talking about thinking less of a person simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even the Catholic Church, who many know does not condone or support gay marriages, encourages acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the workplace and beyond.
The current trend seems to favor judging people for their character rather than their love interests and gender identity (or lack thereof). I’m happy about the shift; this issue has caused too many suicides and too much unnecessary violence, not to mention too many young people walking around feeling less than human simply because society doesn’t accept parts of them. These people may never reach their full potential if they can not even feel comfortable being themselves.
But we’re all a little scared of things we don’t understand, so the transition will be hard. I remember my senior year in high school when many of my friends, classmates, people who I ate lunch with, and teammates started coming out left and right. Going from having no gay friends to having several in the span of a few weeks left me feeling confused, a little scared, and probably a bit discriminatory—in my head, at least. But I never treated them differently because I knew they were still the same people, though perhaps now with a little less weight on their shoulders.
A little bit of tolerance can totally change a community. At first one or two people came out at my school, and it was all anyone would whisper about in the lunch line or between classes. But after the confusion and fear died down, more people felt comfortable following suit. That’s why I like hearing stories about people like Collins; it shows that tolerance can blossom in a community, and that the violence and negativity associated with sexual orientation could someday fade away.
“America the brave still fears what we don’t know
And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten.” –Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, “Same Love”
Want to know why Jason Collins chooses to wear #98? Click here.
Scott Hines is a Director for Blood, Sweat and Berries.