No effing way. And that’s too bad, because Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi tweeted as much, and while there are many things he’s written that I agree with, Taibbi couldn’t be more off base on this one. It’s not only inaccurate, it’s an insult to Robinson’s legacy.
Bear in mind, I’m a total sports agnostic.
I barely know what season it is and follow no one in the sports world, so it was no real surprise when I didn’t know who Jason Collins was. Come to find out from my sports addicted friends, he’s hardly a household name.
Yahoo Sports Andrew Sweat ranks Collins one of the 10 worst NBA players ever. Last year Collins earned $1.3M and he has total career earnings of $31M. I find it interesting that he’s going to earn many times most people’s lifetime earnings while being a esteemed member of the 10 Worst Club!
It was pointed out to me last night by my very well read son-in-law that Collins is not even really the first. A man named Glenn Burke, played for the Dodgers in the 70’s and was the first and only Major League Baseball player known to have been open about his homosexuality with his team and owners. During his career.
He was so open about it, in fact, that during the ’77 off season, rumors became so rampant the Dodgers became concerned and team VP Al Campanis offered Burke $75,000 to get married! Burke rejected their offer and asked Campanis, “I guess you mean to a woman?”
“They can’t ever say now that a gay man can’t play in the majors, because I’m a gay man and I made it,” Burke said.
He was even named by Huff Post Gay Voices – the LGBT Icon of the Month – and he discussed his sexuality in 1982 in Inside Sports magazine and on “The Today Show” with Bryant Gumbel. Burke died from AIDS in 1995.
But with the words, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay”, Collins has somehow managed to become “the first.” He then wrote, “I 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.”
Well, Jason, I’m happy to have that conversation too.
So back to the topic at hand, is Collins another Jackie Robinson?
Not even close.
There are places where being gay in sports is common but still somewhat of a secret – an open, hidden fact. Take Ladies Professional Golf, Softball, Ladies Basketball and Bowling.
OK, maybe not bowling so much, but you know what I’m saying. There have probably always been many gay men playing in the big four sports – 50 years ago, today and on into the future. They’re there and they always have been.
And then the other 49 black men said, “OK, we’re black TOO…”
No, Jackie Robinson was a first. There’s simply no basis for comparison.
Collins will never walk onto the court to the sound of Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman yelling “Nigger, Nigger, Nigger….” as the crowd cheers and supports Chapman as they did in the movie 42. He will never walk back to the bench with voices coming from the bench asking which guy he’s having sex with. Collins will never have to get up in the middle of the night and leave his hotel room for fear of his life.
Collins can travel on the same plane as his teammates. He can sleep in the same hotel, drink from the same fountain, eat at the same table and go to the same clubs. He won’t be chased by dogs, have fire hoses turned on him or have to sit in the back of the bus – I mean, plane. And Collins can and always has been able to cast his vote in any election he chooses.
Does Collins face some issues in today’s world? Sure, and I wouldn’t detract from that for a minute.
Kobe Bryant was fined $100K in 2011 for calling a ref a “faggot” after a foul call he felt he didn’t deserve. Kobe has now also become more nuanced and tweeted, “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU”
Congratulations, Kobe, you and Claire McCaskill have seen the light!
But has Collins really done anything much here? What has he risked at this stage of his game? Much like Claire, has he come around when there was nothing left to lose?
He’s 34 and he’s not been picked up by any team. Why didn’t he do this 10 years ago? I can’t get inside his head, so I don’t know, but I’d guess it’s a last minute PR move. Maybe this will get him a color commentary gig. It will most certainly get him on the speaker’s circuit. But he’s got nothing to lose by coming out now.
And likely little to gain. I bet in Robnson’s mind, he thought he was rolling the dice with his life.
Collins simply is NOT Robinson, no matter how much I admire what he did this week.