Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Martina Navratilova

12-year Veteran NBA Player Jason Collins Comes Out as Gay in Sports Illustrated Article

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Today was a watershed moment in American sports history, because today was the day that Jason Collins, a 12-year veteran center in the National Basketball Association, came out as gay.  Collins is the first-ever professional athlete in any of the four major professional sports — hockey, baseball, basketball, or football — to come out while he’s still playing.

My first reaction: Hallelujah!

Then I read Jason Collins’ three-page, first-person story in Sports Illustrated (written with Franz Lidz).  There are many relevant things here, including why Collins felt the need to come out, what his background is (he’s Christian and believes in Jesus, who promoted tolerance and mutual understanding), and why being gay is not a choice.

Instead, it’s just who Collins is, right along with his basketball ability, his love for history and the civil rights struggle, and many other admirable qualities.

Here’s a relevant quote from the third page of the SI story:

Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start. It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road. Former players like Tim Hardaway, who said “I hate gay people” (and then became a supporter of gay rights), fuel homophobia. Tim is an adult. He’s entitled to his opinion. God bless America. Still, if I’m up against an intolerant player, I’ll set a pretty hard pick on him. And then move on.

I agree.

Speaking of Tim Hardaway, as Collins said, Hardaway has completely changed his opinion.  Michael Rosenberg wrote at Sports Illustrated about how others have reacted to Jason Collins’ groundbreaking announcement — remember, Collins is the first-ever pro athlete to come out as gay in a major male American professional sport while he’s still an active player — and he included a quote from Hardaway:

Several years ago, (Tim) Hardaway made some harsh anti-gay comments, and the backlash was severe enough that Hardaway decided to educate himself about homosexuality. His views have changed radically. He told me he was wrong several years ago, and that gay people deserve the same rights that heterosexuals have.

Hardaway, who now works for the Miami Heat, also said this:

“If people on teams were to come out, people would get over it and accept it and move forward. I really do think that. Any sport. If one person or two people, whoever, comes out in any sport, that sport will accept it and go from there.”

My second reaction: Amen!

Then I read this story by openly lesbian professional tennis player Martina Navratilova, also at SI.  Navratilova knows a great deal about professional pressure to remain closeted, as she was the first major pro sports player in any league to come out as lesbian back in 1981.

Navratilova praises Collins, which makes sense, and then gives a brief history of how difficult it’s been up until the past few years to get support in any professional sports league for gay rights, including the ability to be open about your sexuality rather than closeted.  But she stumbles a bit, in my opinion at least, when she references the late, great Reggie White.

White, as any Packers fan knows, was one of the greatest defensive ends in the National Football League (see this link from Packers.com that summarizes White’s career nicely), and was enshrined in the NFL’s Hall of Fame in 2006.  He was also a Christian minister, and had been raised with fundamentalist Southern Christian values.  Because of this, while White loved everyone, he was not particularly tolerant of gays and lesbians and actually took part in a well-advertised TV campaign to try and get GLBT people to “cease” their homosexuality.

This was offensive, and both the NFL and the Green Bay Packers objected — but for the wrong reason as they were more upset that Reggie actually wore his football jersey in the ads than anything else.

White also could be verbally awkward, as when he went to address the Wisconsin Legislature in March of 1998.  White said something about how Asians are endlessly inventive that sounded awful, like a racial stereotype, rather than the compliment he had intended.  And his comments about other races, including African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans were no better.

All of these things caused White to lose out on a professional announcing gig after he finished playing football.  So White did suffer censure.

White died in 2004.  And at the time, he was attempting to educate himself in ancient Aramaic, as he believed that certain scriptures of the Bible may have suffered by translation — which means that he had apparently had a consciousness raising of sorts.  But he didn’t get the time he needed to learn more, as he died of sleep apnea.  (Here’s a link to the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Foundation, which is located in West Allis, Wisconsin.)

Now, whether this means White would’ve evolved on this issue is unknown.  But I do know that in 2004, President Obama was against gay marriage.  Hillary R. Clinton, while adamantly for gay rights in most senses, was also against gay marriage, as was her husband the former President.  Tim Hardaway was still against gay rights (which, to be fair, Obama and the two Clintons were for), and hadn’t yet educated himself on this issue.  And there were many, many people in all walks of life who said ignorant and bigoted things about GLBT Americans — so Reggie White was not alone.

Look.  I met Reggie White in the summer of 1996.  He was promoting one of his books, which was a Christian missive about how you need to make the most of every day you’re on this Earth and treat people with kindness and respect.  I got to talk with him for fifteen or twenty minutes, without handlers of any sort, as I apparently impressed him because I didn’t ask for an autograph and just talked with him as a real, live human being.  (Thank God/dess for book tours, eh?)

I related to White as a minister, and didn’t see him solely as a great football player.  And White was a compassionate, caring man — he wanted to know what was going on in my life, and he gave me some advice that’s stuck with me to this day.

I truly believe that had White lived to see 2013, between his studies of Aramaic (he even was studying the Torah itself) and his knowledge of people and his love for everyone, he most likely would’ve changed his opinion.  He may have even worked with Athlete Ally, which is a group of straight athletes supporting gay athletes — something that didn’t exist in 2004.

We all have to remember that when White died, he was only 43.  He lived a good life.  He loved God (who he couldn’t help but see as male, but also saw as all-inclusive — I know this from talking with him).  He cared about everyone, and he loved everyone.

But he didn’t get to live another nine years.  And in those nine years, anything could’ve happened.

That’s why I wish Navratilova had picked a still-living athlete with a homophobic stance.  Because there are still quite a number of those, and with one of those she could’ve had a good, spirited and honest debate as to why whomever she’d picked is still so closed-minded in this day and age.

But as she didn’t — and as I’m a Packers fan who once got to speak with Reggie White at great length — I felt I should respond.  Because it’s only right . . . White was a great man in many respects, but yes, he was flawed on this issue.

Still.  He was a great man, and he is now deceased.  It is time to let the dead rest, while we continue to support progress in all aspects of American life.