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UMass professor hails Jason Collins coming out as gay 

  • FILE - Boston Celtics center Jason Collins battles Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) for a rebound during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Los Angeles. NBA veteran center Collins has become the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay. Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday, April 29, 2013 on Sports Illustrated's website.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

    FILE - Boston Celtics center Jason Collins battles Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) for a rebound during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Los Angeles. NBA veteran center Collins has become the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay. Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday, April 29, 2013 on Sports Illustrated's website.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File) Purchase photo reprints »

  • FILE - In a Friday, Sept. 28, 2012 file photo, Boston Celtics' Jason Collins poses during Celtics NBA basketball media day at the team's training facility in Waltham, Mass. NBA veteran center Collins has become the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay. Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday, April 29, 2013 on Sports Illustrated's website. He finished this past season with the Washington Wizards and is now a free agent. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

    FILE - In a Friday, Sept. 28, 2012 file photo, Boston Celtics' Jason Collins poses during Celtics NBA basketball media day at the team's training facility in Waltham, Mass. NBA veteran center Collins has become the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay. Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday, April 29, 2013 on Sports Illustrated's website. He finished this past season with the Washington Wizards and is now a free agent. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File) Purchase photo reprints »

  • FILE - Boston Celtics center Jason Collins battles Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) for a rebound during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Los Angeles. NBA veteran center Collins has become the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay. Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday, April 29, 2013 on Sports Illustrated's website.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
  • FILE - In a Friday, Sept. 28, 2012 file photo, Boston Celtics' Jason Collins poses during Celtics NBA basketball media day at the team's training facility in Waltham, Mass. NBA veteran center Collins has become the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay. Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday, April 29, 2013 on Sports Illustrated's website. He finished this past season with the Washington Wizards and is now a free agent. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Pat Griffin didn’t know who it would be, but she thought the time was right for someone to be the first American male professional team sport athlete to reveal he was gay.

Griffin, a longtime advocate and educator for gay and lesbian issues in sports, had been expecting it would happen soon.

Still, NBA center Jason Collins’ announcement in Sports Illustrated was cause for celebration for Griffin, a Belchertown resident who is a professor emerita in social justice education at the University of Massachusetts.

“I can’t see any bad coming from this,” Griffin said. “I think it’s great and I’m thrilled that we’ve finally crossed this threshold of the first American male pro athlete coming out. It’s taken up a lot of time and energy.”

Collins, 33, just completed his 12th NBA season, splitting time between the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. He’s a free agent who is hoping to continue his NBA career. Griffin thought Collins, a Stanford graduate who lists President Bill Clinton and Joseph Kennedy III among his friends, did a good job of articulating the concerns of athletes debating a decision to come out.

“I thought his article was wonderful,” Griffin said. “I don’t think I could have asked for a better description for why it’s important for people to come out, particularly for athletes, and how much energy it takes to hide such an important part of yourself.”

Collins’ announcement came less than a month after a Baltimore Ravens safety said that multiple NFL players were considering coming out together to take the pressure off any one of them from shouldering the attention alone. Griffin said she thought other athletes will likely follow Collins.

“I’m sure there are athletes who are watching to see what happens,” said Griffin, author of “Strong Women Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sports.”

“I think it’s going to be just fine and I think there will be other athletes that follow him out of the closet.”

Anyone measuring the public reaction saw a largely positive initial response.

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was among the first to tweet on Collins’ behalf:

“Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others.”

A steady stream of tweets followed, including some from multiple current and former NBA players, as well as first lady Michelle Obama, Clinton, Ellen Degeneres and Spike Lee.

Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who coached Collins for part of the 2012-13 season, issued a statement of support on NBA.com.

“I am extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins. He’s a pro’s pro. He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite team players I have ever coached,” Rivers wrote. “If you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance.”

The Boston Red Sox tweeted an offer to have him throw out the first pitch at a game at Fenway to celebrate his announcement:

“We salute you, @jasoncollins34 for your courage and leadership. Any time you want to throw out a first pitch at Fenway Park, let us know.”

Griffin wasn’t surprised at the reaction.

“I really did expect it to be positive,” she said. “I think this has been much less of a big deal, particularly among the players, than people thought it would be. The players themselves are ready for this.

“I think the changes in the broader culture have made a huge difference. We’ve had such an ongoing conversation about same-sex marriage in this country,” she continued. “I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this country that doesn’t know somebody who is gay. The last two years have been amazing. Things have happened that I thought would take a lot longer. Change is coming at a quick and quicker pace.”

She said she thought the public embrace by other athletes would influence youngsters who look at sports figures as role models.

“For a young person to have someone they look up to like Kobe Bryant speaking out in a positive way about this has a huge effect. There have been so many straight male athletes standing up as allies,” Griffin said. “That’s huge because they are such role models, especially for younger athletes who are trying to figure out where they stand on things.”

While Griffin was encouraged by the step that Collins’ revelation represented, she said there are many more still to be taken.

“I’m hoping that it will not only move the conversation forward in men’s sports, but I feel like the real need is to focus our attention on the high school level and the college level,” Griffin said.

Griffin co-wrote a manual for the NCAA, published in March, that is designed to guide college athletic programs to be more aware and understanding of LGBTQ issues.

“It instructs on how to make policy changes and implement educational programs to make sure athletics in college programs are welcoming,” she said.

“The NCAA sent it out to every member school, athletic department, everybody. They put it in the hands of all the people that could use it.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com.

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Pat Griffin was one of those who paved the way for this to be able to happen!

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