It is also unfair to compare skin color with sexuality, especially in the locker room, and it’s important to remember that no one ever stopped Jason Collins from playing basketball because he was gay, since no one knew he was gay. So, his sexual desires and romantic attractions were his own business, and his career was not hindered.
In contrast, Jackie Robinson didn’t have to come out as black. His skin color was known to all, and his baseball career potentially thwarted by racism. This again highlights a fundamental difference between skin color and sexuality. (Let’s not forget that skin color does not relate to a behavior; homosexuality does.)
In the testosterone driven context of the locker room and with the unique male camaraderie that exists, the fact that a player is openly gay could be a legitimate distraction. Will a straight player feel as free to be himself around that player? In the words of former NFL star and now sports commentator Hines Ward, “I don't think football is ready. There are too many guys in the locker room and, you know, guys play around too much.”
Gay activists simply can’t have it both ways. Either it’s no big deal for a professional athlete on a team sport to be gay – meaning that nothing will change in the locker room and on the field of play – in which case there’s no need for that athlete even to mention his or her sexuality. Or else there is a big deal with a player declaring that he’s attracted and aroused by people of the same sex, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable for some of the other team members to feel a little uncomfortable (although today, they will be told that they are homophobic and sent to sensitivity training).
I’m fully aware that many white athletes were uncomfortable showering with a black athlete, but that’s simply a matter of prejudice and ignorance. For a straight athlete to be uncomfortable engaging in locker room horse play with a gay athlete is understandable. And isn’t the purpose of team sports the success of the team? Why make an announcement that could potentially be a distraction from the game at hand?
It’s also interesting to note that Collins was in a serious relationship with a woman for 8 years, breaking up without explanation just one month before they were to be married. (He also has an identical twin brother, who is straight.) This doesn’t mean that Collins wasn’t conflicted for years about his sexuality, but it does point to the fact that skin color and sexual-romantic attractions cannot be rightly compared.
WNBA star Sherly Swoopes provides eloquent testimony to this. She was married to her high school sweetheart from 1995-1999, and they had a son together. In 2005, she announced that she was a lesbian, famously saying, “I can't help who I fall in love with. No one can. ... Discovering I'm gay just sort of happened much later in life.”
In contrast, Jackie Robinson didn’t “discover” he was black, nor did the revelation come to him later in life, which only underscores that gay is not the new black and Jason Collins is not the new Jackie Robinson.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.