When NBA center Jason Collins came out last week, it was huge news. It was brave of him, not just because he was standing up for the rights of people to be who they are, but because he was coming out to both teammates and he wasn’t sure how all of them would react.
But the truth is that professional sports have largely dealt with homosexuality already within their ranks. For the most part they’ve handled it quietly, perhaps occasionally with whispers and verbal jabs between themselves, but they’ve kept it within the ranks of ballplayers and people associated with the game.
Some players adopted a don’t ask, don’t tell mentality, much like the US military did. But that bastion has already crumbled. Others had a handful of trusted friends who knew and others who intentionally turned the other way and pretended they knew nothing.
That includes some journalists, team officials and even friends. I can assure that at least in several markets including New York, LA, Boston, Houston and Philly, gay players and bisexual players have played for those teams, and the odds are that they’ve played on just about every Major League team. While I could name at least a half dozen perhaps a dozen names who I know have played or are currently playing, it isn’t my job or my right to out those people.
And if I knew, you can be sure that at least some teammates, owners and managers, at least those less oblivious, have known the truth too. And they’ve dealt with it.
Why really should it be a problem? Yes it offends some people’s religious and moral views, but it hasn’t prevented any ballplayer from doing their job. At least not publicly. That’s not to say that whispering campaigns haven’t caused emotional distress or even breakdowns that have driven players from the game, but on that I can’t comment because I simply don’t know.
I can think of many reasons why a player wouldn’t come out. For them it might be a matter of privacy or about acceptance among their peers or even about fear or shame about who they are. That’s a personal issue only they can address. But for the teams it’s another issue. For the teams it's about dollars and cents.
Teams don’t want to alienate fans, any fans, either by being too accepting or by being too uptight. They want fans of all races, creeds and sexual persuasions adding to their coffers by buying tickets, watching games and rooting for success.
When a player comes out it threatens their status quo. It forces them to react, to figure out just what they’d do. And in the end most teams will end up doing nothing, for all of the above reasons and in some cases perhaps because of the fear of being accused of discrimination.
For the fans it’s another matter. If players come out, some will take little steps. Some may decide not to buy the player's jersey, but others will. Some may go to the ballpark and scream obscenities at the player, and hopefully they’ll get tossed from the park if they can’t control themselves. But the players will survive. You don’t get to the majors and stay there if you don’t have thick skin.
In the end deciding to come out it a personal decision that only the player can make. Maybe it will strike a blow for equality. That’s a good thing. But in the end does it affect the sport? Only if things are going to change for the worse and I can’t imagine the powers that be making it anywhere near as hard for gay players or letting teammates make it as hard as it was for Jackie Robinson.
Give Jason Collins credit. It was an incredibly brave thing to do. I have no doubt it won’t be long before we see a baseball player or two doing the same thing.