The news of Jason Collins coming out was rightly treated with plenty of admiration and praise, ranging from President Obama to Martina Navratilova to basketball star Kobe Bryant, who has incidentally been previously fined for homophobic slurs. The USA of course remains divided on LGBT issues with gay marriage still being debated in the Supreme Court, but some progress is being made – over 50% of Americans support gay marriage reports have said.
Written By William Barns-Graham
US sport, which took a lead in terms of helping bring greater respect for equal rights between ethnicities in the 60s through to the 80s, has not always been too progressive with sports. Sportswriter Chris Broussard, for example, told ESPN television not all that long ago that homosexual acts were the equivalent to “walking in open rebellion to God”. There have also been reports of players in NFL and other major US sports leagues, saying they would not be happy to play with homosexual teammates. Let’s face facts here, Jason Collins was the first sports player in any of the major four US sports associations to come out and he was not the highest profile of players. That is just one player and there are presumably many more who still feel intimidated from what was, after all, a bold move from Collins.
That this move was bold says all you need to know about the state of US sport to homosexuals and even Collins was retired when he made the announcement. The problem is hardly isolated within the US either. In the ‘world’s sport’ of soccer, much has been said and written about the lack of openly gay players. Recently the US international player Robbie Rogers came out, again following his retirement from the sport, while Anton Hysen playing in the Swedish Third Division remains the only ‘out’ playing professional player.
In the UK, sport is still affected by the legacy of the Justin Fashanu’s tragic story whereby he came out to a great media storm only to be condemned by his family and then to become a media craze that spiralled out of control, culminating in his suicide in 1998 – the day of writing this, the 2nd of May, being the 15th anniversary of this sad day. In recent years the rugby player Gareth Thomas and the cricket player Steven Davies have also come out to wide praise, but that the news of all the players announcing their homosexuality remain notable news stories is itself an indication of how isolated and ahead of the curve these players have been.
Bringing the curve forward towards the acceptance of gay sports players such that their coming out is not a news story but just an accepted moment in their lives should be the aim of sporting associations in the USA, UK and around the world, but can you say enough is being done by NBA, NFL, FIFA or the IOC in modernising this wide sports culture within which homosexuality remains such a notable elephant in the equality in sports room? Probably not. You can hardly say sport around the world has taken the lead in terms of LGBT rights.
Jason Collins’ announcement this week was a bold one and an important one for US sport, but it has to be used by sporting institutions across the USA and the world as a springboard towards making such announcements less unique and less newsworthy.