There was a time when self-righteous segregationists just wanted to be left alone. If you wanted to integrate your schools, your churches, your bus stations, and your water fountains, that was fine. But those segregationists had a way of life and beliefs, some argued religions, which they had to preserve.
If you thought segregation was wrong, it wasn't a moral stand. It was just a difference of opinion. And we can all be civil and still have differing opinions, right?
But something becomes more than just an opinion when your opinion hurts someone. It becomes an atrocity when it hurts an entire prominent segment of society.
Somewhere between the original social construction of racism and contemporary American society, racism ceased to be a "difference of opinion." We realized it was incorrect. It doesn't matter how you were raised. It doesn't matter what you think your religion commands. If you dislike someone solely because of his or her ethnicity, you don't just have a difference of opinion. You are wrong.
Yesterday, Jason Collins became the first active player in a major American male team sport (there's another piece to be written about all those qualifiers and the gender role implications of what we consider "sports") to openly acknowledge that he is gay. Good for Jason Collins, good for the NBA and good for the gay athletes of all ages who now don't have to be the first to brave those waters.
Enter CBS Sports personality Tim Brando:
.@callmeg_unit Simple Being a a Christian White male over 50 that's raised a family means nothing in today's culture. The sad truth. Period.
— Tim Brando (@TimBrando) April 29, 2013
Brando's comments are in response to Jason Collins being called a "hero." Brando disagrees.
Two points for Tim, who retweets a follower including "veterans" and "single parents" on a list of people who are, according to the tweeter, "heroes."
I'm both of those things, and Jason Collins is far more of a hero than me. Jason's op-ed in Sports Illustrated made life a little bit easier for thousands, if not more, of athletes who exist in a culture that has been hesitant to embrace their identity. He's chosen to be the first to run the gauntlet and brave the bigotry of people like Brando who will attack him for being nothing more than the person he was born as. He's drawing rhetorical fire so that fellow gay athletes can maneuver. He is the first, and no other athlete will ever take the amount of criticism he will for living an honest life.
And to move beyond athletes, he has personified an example that is counter to the stereotype of a homosexual male. Gay children and adolescents now have a role model for gay masculinity that says "gay doesn't have to be weak, gay doesn't have to be effeminate." Many adolescents will realize they can be fabulous or ferocious or both or neither or anything else they want to be without having to comply with the norms society has projected on their orientation.
So yes. Jason Collins is a hero.
Second, Tim Brando, you are now Archie Bunker. You are a man living outside of your time. You don't believe these things because you are a white (I'm not sure what being white has to do with morality, but that's another conversation), male, Christian, over 50 or have a family. You believe these things because you are wrong.
Our social norms, thankfully, have moved beyond you. We now realize, as a society, that discrimination against gays for decades (or centuries) has been wrong and we must correct those mistakes for current and future generations.
If your Christianity tells you to be a bigot, you have the wrong kind of Christianity. If being over 50 tells you to hate gays, you're doing old wrong. If being white makes you oppose who Jason Collins is as a person, you belong with plantation owners and men who stood in schoolhouse doors. If having a family makes you think any less of Jason Collins, you are a poor family man and I hope, for the sake of your children, they do not look to you as an example of anything more than what not to be.
Tim Brando has a choice. He can apologize and repent from his bigotry, or he can be the George Wallace of sports history. The overwhelming majority of our society awaits your decision, Tim.
Follow Richard Allen Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rockrichard