Earlier this week, a player in the NBA publicly revealed he was gay. While someone coming out isn’t considered to be “headline” news the way it was just a few years ago, this particular case was. Jason Collins is considered to be the first out player in major league professional sports. There have been others who have come out but not until after they retired, making Collins the first across all professional sports to do so while still in the game. Response to his coming out has been positive though some question the media for why it’s even news, commenting that society has a long way to go if this is something still making headlines.
It’s not so much that his coming out is what makes this newsworthy but rather the context around it. Professional sports are one of the last areas in which people haven’t been comfortable to come out, hence why many have waited until they have retired before doing so. Fans of sports, in particular, tend not to be welcoming and the general locker room atmosphere is likely a haven for homophobic comments and jokes; whether to be taken seriously or not, they’re still there. Most other professions and fields have had prominent figures that are openly gay in recent years. The arts (of course), business and even in politics.
Something I find interesting about the political profession is that, even though they are openly gay political figures, it would seem that issues against homosexuality primarily only openly exist in a politico-religious context. Negative comments in response to a public figure coming out tend to come out of political or religious groups rather than anyone else. If anyone in the public eye expresses any form of homophobia nowadays, there is immediate backlash from the general public. It is only when that person says it in the context of politics or religion do they tend to get any support from those within those two areas. That’s not to say everyone in politics agrees with or expresses homophobia but it is those who consider themselves socially conservative that they are able to use that, coupled with certain religious beliefs, as a veil to permit them to say whatever they’ve said. Any news story that deals with potential anti-gay or homophobic topics in the context of politics or religion also seem to pass immunity to people to express their own anti-gay opinions as well, such as the Canadian blood ban. A recent stroll through the comments of a blood ban topic on an AM radio website presented that.
While it seems like the topic of people coming out being a big deal should be a thing of the past, I think context is important and the attention this case has gotten is a good thing. Now that, publicly, professional sports have jumped on board with accepting openly gay players, that can be considered another area that, at least, has begun the transition of acceptance. To use clichéd analogies, another wall is torn down; another candle has been lit; another supporter has joined the team; etc.