Washington Wizard’s Center Jason Collins Comes Out
by The Milton Measure on Friday, May 17th, 2013
On April 17th, the Gay and Straight People’s Alliance at Milton held an assembly highlighting the tensions of homosexuality in the athletic sphere. Twelve days later, basketball player Jason Collins came out as the first openly gay male professional athlete.
While playing at Stanford in 2001, Collins was named an All-American, then was drafted by the Houston Rockets. Since then he has played for many teams: the New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, and the Washington Wizards. After twelve years in the NBA, he is now a free agent and a world-wide advocate for the LGBTQ community.
In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, Collins took ownership of his identity by saying “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” Jason is extremely proud to make this stride for both the NBA and the entire professional athletic community. “Loyalty to my team is the real reason I didn’t come out sooner,” Collins explains. “I decided to commit myself to the Celtics and not let my personal life become a distraction. When I was traded to the Wizards, the political significance of coming out sunk in. I was ready to open up to the press, but I had to wait until the season was over.”
A huge factor in other athletes keeping their sexual orientation private is locker room culture. “The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room,” Collins says. The locker room is a place where athletes can feel most vulnerable, and, Collins says, many people have misconceptions about how a homosexual person will act in a locker room. However, Jason explains, “I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now. My conduct won’t change. I still abide by the adage, ‘what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.’”
Although Jason announced this opinion with conviction, Elaine Apthorp, History and English teacher at Milton, as well as faculty advisor to the Gay and Straight People’s Alliance, says, “unfortunately homophobia is so virulent in locker room culture nationwide that it’s just not realistic to expect it will evaporate soon.” She adds, “I still read of professional athletes in team sports like football and baseball blandly proclaiming they’d never play with a gay teammate—when of course they have already done so, but those gay teammates have been so intimidated by the consequences of coming out that they’ve been thoroughly not out in the locker room, so the ignorance and bigotry goes unchallenged.”
The LGBTQ community hopes that Jason Collin’s message of “lead[ing] by example and show[ing] that gay players are no different from straight ones” will influence many high school athletes who are struggling to express their sexuality. “Here at Milton we are way ahead of a lot of high schools in that our program in so many ways proactively encourages education about and active appreciation for diversity,” says Ms. Apthorp. “But homophobic attitudes are not magically absent from the community.”
At Milton “a couple years ago one of our own varsity athletes, Erin McDaniel, came out to the school at an assembly in the fall of her senior year [in the context of a response to some anti-lesbian graffiti in one of the Cox Library bathrooms],” Ms. Apthorp remembers. “I can tell you that was a very big deal for her to do at the time.” This is not the only example of a student athlete who felt comfortable enough with the community to share their sexual identity. “About a decade ago, Ken Nakamura came out in a Chapel speech, and that was a big deal. He was a varsity hockey player. Courage was his middle name. To Milton kids’ great credit, both those students got a lot of support from fellow students both before and after their coming out.”
The Milton community still has a long way to go in completely adopting Jason Collins’ philosophy that “a good teammate supports you no matter what.” Ms. Apthorp declares, “It’s depressing to hear the stuff some kids still feel perfectly comfortable saying about gay people without their friends calling them on the careless cruelty of that garbage. We’re on a long road.”
Ms. Apthorp is right. While Jason Collins says, “I’m glad I’m coming out in 2013 rather than 2003. The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted,” he also reminds us that “we still have so much farther to go.” Hopefully Jason Collins’ courage will inspire Milton to encourage each other to be more accepting and open in our athletic programs.
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