Jason Collins is not Brittney Griner

May, 1, 2013
5/01/13
4:46
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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So odd to me, that people wonder why Jason Collins' coming out made bigger waves than Brittney Griner's.

Well, gather 'round, because I'm about to explain.
  1. How many WNBA players are out? As of 2005, Michele Van Gorp, Sue Wicks and Sheryl Swoopes. That was eight years ago.
  2. That the WNBA doesn't make news like the NBA is elemental. It is a lower profile sport.
  3. We don't know precisely the obstacles Collins faced in coming out. But we do know that in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history no other active player has overcome them before, despite thousands of athletes over more than a century.
  4. Jason Collins is a man.

Whoa. What? Huh? That last point?

If I thought it would work, here's where I'd drop 5,000 words of queer theory on you. Or you can take my word for it that gay men and women have long faced subtly different obstacles in gaining mainstream embrace. For men, a particular issue has been that society's powerbrokers -- disproportionately heterosexual men -- have long acted scared of gay men, and particularly of being sexually assaulted by them.

That quickens the pulse of the people who set the agenda, particularly in the male-dominated sphere of pro sports. For many sports fans that gave Collins' announcement a "wow" factor -- likely subconscious -- that Griner's cool announcement lacked.

This is why we hear so much about group showering whenever gay athletes are discussed. The shower is where a lot of heterosexual men hate to be reminded gay men exist, even if they can handle that reality perfectly well in other settings.

Compared to women or gay men, heterosexual men lack practice coping with sexualization, and are easily alarmed.

So chalk that up as the first fear: That the open existence of homosexual men makes some heterosexual men feel unsafe. This prompts fear. Fear and hatred have always walked hand in hand. Hatred, of course, is the key obstacle Collins will face.

Would you believe there's another fear in play that's even trickier to write about? The second is that admiring professional athletes' bodies -- no small part of what sports fans have long done daily -- just got weird for the ardently heterosexual male. Jason Collins is asking fans to tour their own psyches in a challenging new way.

And here's where I really think you ought to read what one of America's most decorated writers (be warned, it's PG-13 or beyond), Sherman Alexie, has to say about about how we see gay athletes, in The Stranger.
So who are the best-looking men in the USA? The answer, obviously, is professional athletes. I mean, Jesus, Google-Image Adrian Peterson. Study how cut, shredded, and jacked he is.

Cut. Shredded. Jacked. Those are violent straight-boy adjectives that mean "beautiful." But we straight boys aren't supposed to think of other men as beautiful. We're supposed to think of the most physically gifted men as warrior soldiers, as dangerous demigods.

And there's the rub: When we're talking about professional athletes, we are mostly talking about males passionately admiring the physical attributes and abilities of other males. It might not be homosexual, but it certainly is homoerotic.

So when Jason Collins, an NBA basketball player, announced this week that he was gay and became the first active athlete in the four major professional American sports leagues to come out of the closet, I was proud of him. And I was aroused, politically speaking.

He's the Jackie Robinson of homosexual basketball big men.

He's seven feet and 250 pounds of man-loving man.

And he's an aging center in the last days of his professional career who might not be signed by a team next season.

Homophobic basketball fans will disparage his skills, somehow equating his NBA benchwarmer status with his sexuality. But let's not forget that Collins is still one of the best 1,000 basketball players in the world. He has always been better than his modest statistics would indicate, and his teams have been dramatically more efficient with him on the court. He is better at hoops than 99.9 percent of you are at anything you do. He might not be a demigod, but he's certainly a semi-demigod. Moreover, his basketball colleagues universally praise him as a physically and mentally tough player. In his prime, he ably battled that behemoth known as Shaquille O'Neal. Most of all, Collins is widely regarded as one of the finest gentlemen to ever play the game. Generous, wise, and supportive, he's a natural leader. And he has a degree from Stanford University.

In other words, he's a highly attractive dude.

 

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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