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It all sounds so normal. Jason Collins first confided in his aunt, who already knew, and then an uncle and finally his parents and twin brother. He told them he is gay. Some family members were surprised and some weren't. They accepted the news and moved on.
Maybe the most telling aspect of Collins' revelation is just how pedestrian it all seems. It was the same scene that has played out millions of times in homes across the world, and Collins' detailed account of his own experience was about as unsurprising and routine as someone's step-by-step documentation of mailing a letter.
This is the real world. Families deal with this. Gay people deal with this. Employers and co-workers and friends deal with this. Jason Collins' revelation that he is gay -- thus becoming the first openly gay player in a major American team sport to come out during his playing days -- is contextually relevant but exceedingly dull.
And that's the best thing about it.
|Jason Collins has never averaged more than 6.4 points per game in a season, focusing instead on playing defense (against guys like Shaq), setting picks and filling the role assigned him.|
We've waited on this story forever, it seems. There was so much buildup, so much drama attached to the mere possibility. The concept of an openly gay player in a major American sport was the last barrier. There have been rumors for years, most recently involving a possible mass outing -- for lack of a better term -- of several NFL players. Getting the story was considered the white whale of the sports-journalism world, and when it arrived it came from a smart, well-respected guy who described his journey of self-discovery like someone reading a grocery list.
It's not often that normal becomes fascinating, but in this case it has. It's a testament to the way Collins decided to tell his story, in a thoughtful and dispassionate first-person piece in Sports Illustrated. He doesn't glamorize his decision or elevate himself above those who chose to make a different one. It's so exceedingly normal, in fact, that if you substitute a different profession (let's make him a character actor) and a different forum (let's make it People instead of SI) you could make the case that nobody would give it a second thought. You could probably also make the case that it would have been viewed as so normal that it wouldn't have been published in the first place.
Based on first impressions, Collins appears distinctly well-suited for the role he has undertaken. Of course, it isn't and won't be all sweetness and light. The condemnations and attacks, from religious absolutists to the Internet commentariat, began flying the minute the news hit. It's no wonder Collins waited 'til the season ended. But if he continues to discuss his sexual orientation in the same straightforward, unapologetic manner, the story just might die of natural causes. I say this in the most respectful way possible: It's just not that interesting.
Collins has had a relatively undistinguished career spread across a bunch of different teams. He jokes about how players across the league just might find themselves named in a Three Degrees of Jason Collins game. Somehow, the idea of "Jason Collins: NBA Everyman" sounds like it should be a metaphor for something or other.
It took Collins for us to realize how strange it is that the sports world still considers this a big deal. Nearly every other profession or cultural entity -- some religious organizations excepted -- long ago came to terms with the open existence of gays in the workplace.
Sure, basketball has its own professional and cultural quirks. For one -- and apparently it's a major one -- people down at the bank don't shower together after work, at least not on bank property. In basketball, they do, and we're told that some players might have a problem with this. Really? That's the best they can do? Look at Collins' career: 12 years, six teams -- and somehow he managed to keep his orientation a secret from the broader world 'til Monday.
Whether Collins gets to compete next year as the first truly active gay player is open for debate. He's a free agent, so it's not up to him, and there are enough questions -- age and talent, specifically -- that every team could justify passing on him for reasons that have nothing to do with his decision to come out.
Would a team be willing to take on the media sideshow that figures to accompany Collins? At least temporarily, it's going to be a major and ongoing topic around whatever team employs him. It's quite possible that members of the LGBT press would follow Collins and his team the way Japanese reporters follow Ichiro Suzuki.
But those machinations are for another day, and frankly they're someone else's problem. For now, the most concise and relevant assessment of Collins' announcement came when former NBA player and coach Kurt Rambis called his son to tell him the news only to be met by a long pause on the other end.
Finally, his son said, "So?"
Is Collins a hero? To some, sure. But to almost everybody else, he's just a guy going about his life.
We were expecting a gasp, and in the end, we got a shrug.
And that's a good thing.
It's a big world out there. The insular world of major American men's sports just became a more complete part of it.