You might have heard of Jason Collins before. He's played 12 seasons in the NBA, most recently with the Washington Wizards. Although certainly not one of the big-name stars in the NBA, if you didn't know who he was, chances are you probably do now. Yesterday, Collins became the first openly gay male athlete who is still active in a major American team sport, and this story he co-authored is running in this week's Sports Illustrated.
The support has been very positive for the most part, with even President Obama calling Collins to express his support. Fellow NBA players and coaches also expressed support for Collins through the press and on Twitter.
Most progress like this relies on people like Collins who aren't afraid to stand up, challenge the status quo and push the envelope. The great ones definitely dance to the beat of a different drummer, and many breakthroughs and firsts of all kinds are made by champions who ignore the facts and follow their hearts. Jason Collins exhibited real mental toughness in his decision to come out. It's something he certainly didn't need to do, but felt inspired to do.
Regarding his future, Collins said, "And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful."
Let's hope Jason Collins gets to play next season. He becomes a free agent in July. The decision of course must come based on only his ability to play basketball. Just as he shouldn't be discriminated against for being gay, he shouldn't receive any special treatment just so the league looks like they are welcoming an openly gay player.
As great as what Collins did today for sports, himself, gay rights and the push for equality everywhere, here's my critical thinking question: when will we live in a world where people don't have to fear coming out like Jason Collins did for so many years? When will people not need to come out at all because being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender isn't looked at as different? When will the day come when it's just not a big deal?
Let's pretend for a minute that Jason Collins was a straight man engaged to his fiancé and getting married today. Do you think he would attract this kind of media coverage? Of course not! Let's look forward to the day when a man can be with a man and a woman can be with a woman and it's treated the same as a man and a woman being together. That's what true equality is.
I believe we're closer than most people realize. Homosexuality is a natural predisposition that exists throughout the animal kingdom, and it's time for all Americans to wake up and realize that one has as much a choice being born gay or straight as they do being born black, white, Hispanic, Jewish, Catholic, male or female. You are who you are and it will be a great day for all of us when people can live openly and freely being the person they were meant to be, without fear of discrimination.
It will be a great day when all gay men can, without hesitation, say the words "my partner." It will be a great day when the 16-year-old high school student can sit his or her parents down and not have to worry about the repercussions of saying "mom, dad, I'm gay." It will be a great day when all 50 states happily marry any gay couple and welcome them to the community without prejudice, and when all insurance companies and employers recognize same-sex partnerships the same way they do straight couples.
We've made great progress in this area even in the last decade. As of April 2013, nine states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington -- as well as the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, representing 15.7 percent of the U.S. population.
America has a long history of discrimination that includes blacks, Native Americans and women. Lincoln freed the slaves and it still took another 100+ years for blacks to be treated like equals. Some people claim racism is still alive and well in modern day America. For all of our country's claims of exceptionalism, we have some pretty shoddy history as it relates to human rights. It's time for America to join other countries around the world that are performing same-sex marriages like The Netherlands, France, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa and so many others.
The point is eventually the people of the free world come around and end up doing the right thing. It may take time but it will happen. As more heroes like Jason Collins come out and keep moving the wheels of progress and equality in motion, it's only a matter of time before being a homosexual isn't frowned upon by some people in society.
As Hendrik Hertzberg, the political commentator for The New Yorker Magazine said, "Marriage should be between a spouse and a spouse, not a gender and a gender." It's time we welcome everyone into our society as an equal and let people live life on their own terms.