Making progress

FI-EditorialThere was an extremely positive sign on two fronts when active NBA player Jason Collins admitted that he is gay this week. Not only was this revelation greeted with a largely positive reaction, but the response itself was not really surprising at all.

After all, most people said to themselves, it’s not as though this is the first time there has been a gay professional athlete. There have been lesbians competing at high levels of professional achievement for as long as there has been women’s sports and if you think there haven’t been homosexual male athletes over the years living in the closet then you probably still think Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds hit all those homers without a little help from the pharmacist. So, we tell ourselves, we are ready for athletes to be able to come from the shadows and live their lives as openly as heterosexual athletes are allowed, if not encouraged, to do.

But are we really ready?

Suppose it wasn’t Jason Collins who came out of the closet. He’s a role player with a long career, but his biggest claim to fame was a prominent position on two New Jersey Nets teams that went to the NBA finals and proceeded to get absolutely shellacked both times, setting record lows for television ratings in the process. He’s not a superstar. But what if it was Carmelo Anthony who came out of the closet? Are we ready for that?

How would we have reacted if, all Red Sox fan jokes aside, it had been Derek Jeter? Would it have been different if it had been one of “our” heroes? Does anyone recall the embarrassment of Mets star Mike Piazza once having to call a press conference to publicly deny he was gay? What if he had said the rumor was true though? Would his accomplishments on the field be seen differently now?

When news like this comes out, most people react with outward acceptance, calling Mr. Collins brave and a trailblazer while we shake our heads over idiotic comments from the likes of reporter and talking head Chris Broussard, who used idiotic biblical “justification” to essentially call this man a sinner on ESPN. And when we do that, we feel good and proud of ourselves. But that’s the easy part.

Part of what will truly allow us to progress as a society is recognizing our prejudices and working to overcome them. They’re still there, whether we want to admit it or not. How many crude jokes were made in the wake of Mr. Collins’ announcement? Even if you “support” his decision to come out, did you still laugh at them? Did you retweet that rude tweet about it? Did you call him brave and then mock him a moment later? Many did, and it’s a natural reaction — who doesn’t use humor to relate to things — but it’s still one we need to overcome.

Last week Greenwich celebrated its annual Stand Against Racism Day with the YWCA, and of all the speakers there, someone whose words rang particularly true was GHS student Annie Zheng, who correctly noted that we make judgments all the time about people we don’t even know and how we define race (and therefore sexuality) is still a huge factor in how we see others. This isn’t a problem that has been conquered.

Gay marriage is being supported in record numbers. When there is visible discrimination from places like the Boy Scouts of America toward gay Scouts and troop leaders, it’s met with justifiable outrage. But the macho aura of the locker room is still one area that needs to be dealt with. No issue should be taken with Mr. Collins and his brave decision to be that first one through the door, and it is hoped that others hiding an essential part of themselves will be inspired to follow. Rather, the issue is with us and our reactions.

We are getting better when it comes to true tolerance but battles have not been won. We must not pat ourselves on the back and forget the progress that still needs to be made.

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