Thursday, May 2, 2013

A New Day's Dawn....

I shall not be confused for Pollyanna.  Not in this life.  Nor in the next for that matter.  Nevertheless I found myself going slowly insane on Monday as the story exploded throughout the real world and the on-line world both regarding Jason Collins' decision to declare publicly that he is a professional basketball player AND a gay man.  I found myself going slowly insane because his life is his business.  Period.  

Jason Collins is a Stanford-educated man.  He has played in the NBA since 2001 - although as I understand his present situation he became a free agent at the end of the recently-concluded regular season.  I am not a pro hoops fan so I would not pretend to know his statistics and bona fides.  I presume, however that a player who has cashed a NBA paycheck for more than a decade is held in fairly high regard by his peers for the manner in which he plies his trade.  

I do recall that at one point several years ago, Jason Collins was a starter for the late, great New Jersey Nets.  I would not pretend to tell you how long he played for the Princes of the Swamp but I distinctly remember him being a key member of the Nets teams that won back-to-back Eastern Conference Championships, led by Collins, Richard Jefferson, Kenyon Martin and their quarterback Jason Kidd.  The Nets did not emerge victorious from either trip to the NBA Finals.  Nevertheless, for a couple of seasons at least New Jersey was a legitimate point of interest in the professional basketball universe.  

While I have read and seen articles throughout Jason Collins' playing career (both at Stanford and in the pros) criticizing certain weaknesses in his game, I have never - to my memory - read or heard a negative word about Jason Collins the man.  I presume, given the lengths to which he went to keep his private life private that the praises that were sung of him were sung by those who had no idea whether he was a heterosexual or a homosexual.  In the immediate wake of his declaration, it appeared as if those who held him in high regard prior to his "coming out" continued to do so thereafter.   

As it should be.  Jason Collins' sexual orientation bears as little relationship to the quality of his character as does his height, his weight, his language of choice or the color of his skin.   Candidly, I am of the opinion that whether the fellow next door is a butcher, a veterinarian, a karate instructor or a power forward for a professional basketball team, his sexual orientation is as much of my business as mine is of his, which is to say it is none at all.  Apparently, I hold down a minority position on this issue.  

Whether Jason Collins is the only professional athlete currently earning a living in Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NHL or NBA who also happens to be a gay man I would not pretend to know.  And while I do staunchly believe whether he is or not is the business of absolutely no one, I must confess that I find myself rooting for him to be the one who clears a path for others to follow.  I am so rooting because if and when that were to occur it would move us with alacrity beyond this point.  A number of athletes identifying themselves as gay men would advance the discussion swiftly past the point of using "gay" as an adjective to describe any particular player much in the same way that presently hardly anyone uses the color of an athlete's skin to describe him.  Show me at your leisure the next newspaper column or magazine piece you read in which Carmelo Anthony is identified as "the African-American" star of the New York Knicks or in which Justin Verlander is referred to as the "Caucasian" star of the Detroit Tigers.  It simply does not happen.  And it does not happen because it is a non-story.  

Here's to the day in what I hope is the not-too-distant future - and it shall be a day whenever it arrives  whose arrival has been heralded in significant part by the actions Jason Collins undertook this week - on which a professional athlete's sexual preference/orientation is reduced to the status of being a non-story.  We shall all be better people when it does.  

At day's end, is that not all that should really matter?


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