A growing dialogue

Two years ago, if you had asked me about the probability of an athlete coming out in one of the four major men's pro sports, I would have said, "There's a chance but not likely."

If you were to take it a little further and had asked whether it could be an NBA player who happens to be 7-foot and black, I would have said, "NO WAY."

Steven Freeman/NBAE/Getty Images

Jason Collins received the Courage Award at the GLSEN Respect Awards on Monday in New York.

So when people ask me what I think of Jason Collins coming out while actively playing in the NBA, I say AWESOME! Honestly, how could I not be happy for a man defining his own personal freedom. On some level, Collins has to feel like a weight has been lifted off him.

Before I came out to the world after my basketball playing days at Villanova, I came out to my friends. Before I came out to my friends, I had to come out to myself and before that, I lived in my own personal prison, a paradox of fear, the world's expectations of me, my family's ideas and beliefs instilled in me and a world of uncertainty.

Unfortunately, coaches still coach like Mike Rice -- and not just at the professional or collegiate level. I'm sure there are high school football or basketball coaches using slurs and emasculating language in an attempt to motivate players to play harder and tougher. Nor are gay athletes always allowed to be themselves; Brittney Griner said Kim Mulkey, her college coach at Baylor, told players not to talk about their sexuality.

Yet as the public conversation about orientation pushes forward, more people develop understanding and act with simple decency.

In 2011 Kobe Bryant, used a slur out of frustration when scolding a referee. At the time he was fined $100,000 by the NBA. More recently, he was one of many NBA players who tweeted in support of Collins when his story hit newsstands.

Collins is pushing the conversation forward and forcing people to talk. I live in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, N.Y., and my barber, a West Indian man, felt comfortable enough to open up shop talk about the news. He brought it up to me because he knows I am gay and have no hesitation sharing my thoughts on equality. To sum up a wide-ranging discussion, not everyone on Tompkins Avenue is as progressive as I am, but we did agree that a man who is responsible -- who takes care of himself like a "Man" -- deserves to act as he may, as long as he's not hurting anybody, with no judgment.

This has not always been the case in the black community. If you had told me two years ago that's how the conversation would end, I would have said "NO WAY."

Pretty sick, ay?

This is a dialogue bigger than myself, John Amaechi or Jason Collins. A dialogue that's happenings in the homes, schools, gyms, churches, courtrooms and even barbershops of America. This dialogue is going to define our culture, our values and our way of thinking for future generations. This conversation is pushing America in the direction our forefathers only dreamed of when they conceptualized the idea of America being a place where everyone had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As Collins moves forward in his newfound freedom and life and happiness, he'll be a historic reference point for gays in sports -- like Martina Navratilova -- and he'll also be remembered as a ground-breaker for the black gay community. So Mr. Collins I salute you!

You go ahead and be black, be a baller and out! Work your ass off this offseason and get that next contract because now you have the attention of not only the basketball world, but the eyes and ears of the gay community, the black community and this country, as well.

Will Sheridan is a hip-hop artist, speaker and activist. He played at Villanova from 2003-04 to 2006-07. Follow him @WillSheridan or learn more at TheWillSheridan.com.

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