So, I am sure everyone has read about/heard/seen the news regarding the first American Major Sports athlete to "come out" publicly. My initial reaction to this announcement was:
"I do applaud Jason's courage. However, we must also recognize the bravery and sacrifices of the multitudes of people around the world who find themselves in a very difficult situation every day just because of who they are...let Jason's example lead us to a place where everyone can be who they are in freedom and without being challenged for being themselves."
I was and still am proud of Jason's courage and his decision to publicly announce what he has had to hide for most of his life. I was left, though, with a feeling of - "What about the others, those who are not professional athletes? What about those who are not celebrities? What about those who have suffered and continue to suffer for being who they are?"
I spent most of yesterday thinking about this blog. What did I want to say? Sure - I wanted to show support for Jason Collins and for all of my brothers and sisters in the world who are gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/trans/etc. Living in Atlanta, Georgia (or just outside of it), I see too often negativity from those who do not feel the way I do. I also am not one to throw out negativity toward those who disagree with me. What I do wonder about, what I spend a lot of time thinking about...what will it take for equality to really/truly mean equality for all people?
So there it is. My intentions are clear (at least to me). Let me explain. While I was thinking yesterday, I contacted my good friend Bruce Silverman. Bruce and I have known each other for a LONG time (about 30 years). He was a counselor and unit head at Camp Coleman when I was a camper. He gave me a lot of crap over the years...and we have really grown to be good friends. So, when he contacts me and asks me to come on his show as "his Rabbi," or "his Padre," of course I do so. When I have a question about anything related to sports - Bruce is my first line of defense!
Before I write about our conversation - let me give Bruce his due respect. You see, Bruce wrote a blog back in February entitled, "Homosexuality in Sports: Who will be the Gay Jackie Robinson?" Bruce could see the message so clear - someone would come out publicly...and it would be soon. Here is a link to his blog:
That's right, my good friend the Prophet - Bruce Silverman!
Now, onto the heart of our discussion. I asked Bruce a lot of questions...focused on one key idea. Why now? Why so public? Why not just wait until the Sports Illustrated article arrived on our doorsteps next week? And, why, if Jason intended on not making this a "bigger deal," would he be so public?
Bruce's answers were pretty well thought out and made a lot of sense. If Jason had waited until next week, the article would have been leaked and it would have been a lot messier than just making it public himself. Apparently, this "secret" has been held by Sports Illustrated for a few weeks - so you have to give credit to them for keeping it secret as long as they did. Jason Collins - who is that? Well, he is a journeyman player who has played for a lot of teams and with a lot of players. Therefore, he is someone well known in the NBA world, but not a superstar. After all, if a superstar had come out, the news would have been about the SUPERSTAR, rather than the courage of the act of coming out to the public.
So, I guess the question now is: Will this really make a difference? Yes, there have been many people who have responded in support of Jason: Kobe Bryant, David Stern, Wade Davis (NFL), Grant Hill, President Obama, etc. This is a great response. But, will it matter?
Here is part of an article from the LA Times:
"Now that Collins has come out, gay rights activists are hoping athletes will no longer need to choose between truth and a career.
"This is the first domino," said Patrick Burke, a scout with hockey's Philadelphia Flyers and the founder of You Can Play, a group advocating equality for athletes regardless of sexual orientation. "The floodgates are about to open here."
National political leaders, gay rights groups and entertainment icons also spoke in support of Collins.
"Major league sports has remained one of the last bastions of homophobia, but that has slowly been changing,” said L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center spokesman Jim Key in an email. "This announcement has been a long time coming. We're incredibly grateful and proud of Jason Collins for being open about his sexual orientation and for the role he'll play in inspiring [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] youth.”
Aaron McQuade, head of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation sports program, called Collins an "exceptionally courageous man" and quipped that the NBA star was also "honestly, a really great defender."
McQuade and others described Collins as a trailblazer -- the only active player in the five major men's professional sports leagues to come out -- and that others would see his example and the support he gets and likely follow in kind. He said he hoped to see a cascade of professional athletes in the five major sports to follow suit."
I share the same hope for the future. I hope that the goodwill being shown to Jason Collins continues for him. I hope that other professional athletes will see the example of Jason Collins as the opportunity to be who they truly are, not just privately, but also publicly.
But, do you know what I hope for more than anything else? I hope that this will lead each of us to recognize that we are all equal, regardless of sex, color, culture, religion or sexual preference.
That is my ultimate message. May we all see the day when equality = equality.
As it says in Leviticus: Ve’ahavta Lere’acha Kamocha (Leviticus 19:18) "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Kein Yehi Ratzon - May this be God's will!
Rabbi Erin Boxt