Sully Says: Jason Collins and Jackie Robinson
I'll be honest with you. The news that NBA journeyman, Jason Collins, had announced to the world that he was gay did not rock my world. Did it surprise me? Not really. This isn't 1975 or 1980, it's 2013.
"I think, I know, in my personal life, I'm ready, and I think the country is ready for supporting an openly gay basketball player," Collins told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
The response to Collins coming out as the first openly gay athlete in any of the four major sports has been extremely positive. From political leaders like Presidents Obama and Clinton to NBA leaders like Commissioner Stern and Kobe Bryant. Am I surprised? No.
Two, three or five years from now, we should be able to gauge the true impact of this announcement. Will gay athletes in the other major sports follow Collins' lead and go public with their secret? I don't know.
Keep in mind, this was not a career risk for Collins. It's true that Jason Collins is an active NBA player, but for how long? He just finished season 11 of a very average NBA career. Announcement or no announcement, he was not a lock to be on an NBA roster next season. Will a young star with a long career ahead of him feel it's in his best interest to make the same call? I just don't know.
To many in the gay community, Jason Collins is a hero. I respect that but I think comparing anyone to the original barrier breaker in sports is out of bounds. That's why I think it's wrong to call Jason Collins or anyone else the Jackie Robinson of the gay community.
We talk a lot about courage in college and pro sports but let's be honest: Jackie Robinson was the only man who was a hero just for stepping between the lines.
In the spring and summer of 1947, Robinson carried the weight of an entire race on his shoulders. His opposition came from all directions at all times. The kind of a stuff that would make you cringe.
This is just one shameful example of what Robinson had to endure: on April 22, 1947, during a game between the Dodgers and Philadelphia, Phillies players and manager Ben Chapman called Robinson a "nigger" from their dugout and yelled that he should "go back to the cotton fields." It's easy to paint those players and coaches as cartoonish villains today but let's not forget they were expressing what many misguided Americans actually felt.
What Jackie Robinson did during the 1947 season was truly heroic. Just imagine what would have happened if Jackie Robinson took the bait and struck back against his attackers. The athletic landscape might have remained white washed for another decade or more.
Under the most difficult circumstances, Robinson earned Major League rookie of the year honors. He took a mighty swing for civil rights.
That was 66 years ago.
It's 2013 and thankfully, Jason Collins or any other gay player who comes out will not have to face the opposition or abuse that Robinson ran into in 1947.
This is not an endorsement of a lifestyle. It's simply moving to a point where you are judged by your talents not your beliefs, even in pro sports. It's my hope that we are also at a time where tolerance is also shown to those who may have opposing thoughts on this issue.
Jason Collins is making a bold decision but let's not forget that he owes a lot to Jackie Robinson - the original athletic American hero.