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Are Openly Gay Athletes Heroes?

2020-04-09 18:52:12 by Chief Editor
Summary:By Herman L. Brame
NBA player Jason Collines recently made it known to the public through a Sports Illustrated article that he is gay. Collins has been widely praised and supported by President Obama, Oprah Wenfree, NBA Commissioner David Stern and numerous public figures and celebrities. Some have even compared his actions favorably to those of Jackie Robinson.

Collins has been praised by some as the first openly gay athlete in a major sport, but this is not correct. Former Major League baseball player Glenn Burke was actually the first openly gay active athlete in a major sport. Burke played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics from 1976 through 1979. During his playing days the late Burke was open about his homosexuality to this teammates, coaches, ownership and the press. Burke's homosexuality was pretty much ignored even though he was the first to come out. Other homosexual athletes such as Bill Tilden, Dave Kopay, and Billie Jean King etc. received much more publicity and were either outed or came out after their careers were over.

A hero or heroine is generally defined as a person who at great personal risk takes a brave or courageous action. Against this criteria do Jason Collins and women's college basketball All-American Brittney Griner, who recently came out, qualify as heroes and heroines? Collins came out at the end of his career, and Greiner publicly proclaiming her homosexuality is probably no surpised to anyone who knows anything about her.

Before proclaiming Jason Collins and Brittney Griner heroes or heroines it would make sense to compare their situations to that of heroic individuals. Some of the primary characteristics of heroism have proven to be the following:
1) Openly defying unjust laws. In 2003, the United States Supreme Court invalidated the few remaining sodomy laws that made homosexuality a crime. Neither Collins or Griner are willfully breaking an unjust law, 2) Subjected to death threats, and physical assaults. It is hard to imagine either Collins or Griner receiving death threats or being assaulted for their sexual orientation, although this has been known to happen to some homosexuals, 3) Subject to public verbal threats and assaults. Any teammates, coaches, or fans who did this would be subject to serious ramifications for such behavior toward Collins or Griner, 4) Subject to restricted associations. Collins and Griner would most likely retain the support of close friends and many teammates. Some in the public would create some distance for moral or religious reasons, 5)Subject to limitations in access to employment and public accomodations. Collins is not a very good NBA player at this point in his career so will have a difficult time finding another NBA job, while Griner will be an unbridled superstar in the WNBA. Neither will be denied any public accomodations, 6) Subject to open public scorn. Neither Collins or Griner will be subject to open public scorn. Are they heroic? Judge for yourself?

Comparisons to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in modern Major League baseball are invalid. Robinson did not have to make a public announcement that he was Black. He was clearly Black and suffered physical threats, verbal assualts, insults and "legal" discrimination, and public scorn. Robinson heroicly stood up against discriminatory laws in the military and public life. Most advances in Civil Rights laws did not benefit Robinson as they came after he broke the color barrier in 1947. The United States Armed Forces were not officially desegregated until 1948, Brown V. Board of Education was not the law of the land until 1954, the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Heterosexual and homosexual athletes should be honest and respectful toward each other less conflict and even physical violence could take place. Past Washington Redskins teams have had several gay players, and in 1997 their was a physical altercation between two Redskins players that was rumored to center around a perceived gay slur directed at a player. Heterosexual athletes should disavow insult and violence while homosexual athletes must recognize that many, if not most, heterosexual athletes are deeply offended at the possibilty of being desired sexually or approached sexually by another male. The locker room is a place of close contact in a state of undress, but should still be seen primarily as a place of business. Heterosexual and homosexual athletes must first and foremost focus on being athletes who respect other athletes.

Athletes should not see each other as freaks, heroes, or crusaders.


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