Early in my time at The Ohio State University a professor told me something that I repeat to myself daily.
“Don’t see faces, see the situation.”
Simplistic in nature, but profound in so many ways. What he was trying to teach me was not be swayed by who you are covering, just focus on the situation. It was a lesson in trying to eliminate bias. We all have biases, so they can never fully be eliminated, but you can lessen them if you take the emotion out of it.
I am not going to be one of those people who says “Who Cares?” or “Why is this a story?” (those people annoy me, if no one cared, I wouldn’t be writing a post) in regard to Jason Collins. It is a definitely a story and I am not diminishing its importance, but what I am trying to do is get you to open up your mind and think about things from a different perspective.
I understand it is a big deal that an openly gay player is on an NBA roster, but I don’t want people to forget why it is such a big deal. It is a big deal because of the fear that a gay athlete would be ostracized. It is that fear that have caused many gay athletes to keep their sexual orientation to themselves.
But, just think for a second, what would be the best way to eliminate that fear? It would be by acting like what is happening isn’t a big deal at all.
That is where I think the NBA made a mistake last night by having a press conference for Jason Collins. Collins says he wants to just focus on Basketball, which I think is awesome, but you can’t expect people to just focus on basketball when you are having press conferences giving advice on how gay athletes should just be themselves.
The best thing we can all do and that includes the media is to treat Jason Collins no differently than we treat Nazr Mohammed (who has been in the league longer than Collins, with slightly better numbers, which isn’t saying much).
He’s a veteran scrub, towel waving, bench warmer. Being gay doesn’t change that, he was that before he came out and he’s that now. If he truly wants it to be about basketball and if we truly want to get to the point where we simply don’t care about someone’s sexual orientation, the media and league should stop propping the player up as something special. When you dealing with equal rights, you can’t forget the equal part. The whole point is that you are trying to get away from not being treated fairly, so being put pedestal goes against what you are fighting for.
The media (myself included) sometimes don’t give the fans and people in general enough credit. There are always going to be some knuckleheads out there, but I like to think the majority of fans are good people who can reasonably understand what having a gay player in the NBA means without having it shoved down their throat. The Lakers crowd showed us that last night by their reaction when Collins entered the game.
This isn’t Jackie Robinson, this isn’t even Michael Sam, this is an established veteran player deciding he wanted to tell people he is gay. He doesn’t have to worry about draft stock or winning over a locker room. He has been in NBA locker rooms for over a decade. Players, teams and fans know what he is and what he isn’t as a basketball player and frankly that is all the majority of them care about.
I hope Collins inspires millions. As a black man I know what it is like to be excluded, to be looked at differently and to have built in stereotypes working against you. But, it has always been my opinion the best way to deal with that is just by doing your job the best you can. I don’t think anyone should be fearful of being who they are. Being gay isn’t a disease, it shouldn’t preclude you from opportunities. I do believe Jason Collins got an opportunity more because the Nets needed a big man than PR for employing a gay athlete, it just happens that this big man is also gay. That should be the overriding point, that Collins’ sexual orientation didn’t override the teams’ need for the player.
What Collins is doing is a step in the right direction, but he has to be a man of his word. He said it is just about the basketball, so only talk about basketball.
No more press conferences, no more talking about your life as a gay man, no more making it about everything but basketball. If you want to do that in offseason, that’s fine, but right now you want to be treated like any other player, then act like one. From a basketball perspective he wasn’t any different last night than he has been during any other time in his NBA career. Zero Points, 2 rebounds, good hustle and defense in limited minutes. The fact that the media praised each “hard screen” like it was the greatest screen in the history of the NBA is a step in the wrong direction.
The best thing we can all do is just call Jason Collins what he is, a scrub, nothing more, nothing less, because being tall had a lot more with him playing last night, than him being gay and that is historic.