In my lifetime I have watched gay celebrities morph from Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde to Ellen (both DeGeneres and Page) and Neil Patrick Harris. I guess I always knew that once Ellen paved the way with her brave admission, that it would just be a matter of time before countless others would be able to eek their way out of the closet.
But as a Southerner and an avid football fan, I never really fathomed that not only would I witness athletes coming out of the closet, shattering the “crystal locker”, but also do it with such grace as Jason Collins. It is one thing to admit to coaches, teammates and fans that he was gay. I still regard that as a highly personal decision and find no fault for those who have not yet broached those conversations. Sure, our world needs more positive role models…in all communities. I never liked seeing any public figure hide about their personal life, but it is quite another to make the brave admission risking friends, career and possible violence and harassment.
Jason Collins has taken his responsibilities of coming out to the next level by requesting to wear #98 as he takes to the court with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets. The significance of the #98? It is to honor Matthew Shepard who was tragically and brutally murdered in 1998. By making this bold move, Collins wears his advocacy on his sleeve…and his chest and his back.
And there are those detractors who say that Brooklyn only recruited Collins as their team is struggling so significantly that they needed the extra attention. These same folks are making the same allegations about Michael Sam, the Mizzou defensive lineman who just struggled through the NFL Combine. I say if Brooklyn chose Collins to get more media attention and Sam came out to improve his mediocre chances of getting drafted to an NFL team, then fine. It just proves to me that coming out may finally be an asset and one that can move a team and a player a little further up the ranks. What a welcomed change.