'Black and gay': How race plays a role in Jason Collins' coming out

There’s nothing like a public figure daring to declare his or her homosexuality to show how damningly self-centered everyone else can be.

Immediately after Sports Illustrated published a column penned by 12-year NBA veteran and current free agent, Jason Collins, in which he reveals that he is a gay man, those living on the self-involved side of life made the transparent decision to determine the column’s worth based on they felt about it. As in, it’s not a big deal because an athlete’s sexuality is of no concern to them. Never mind the historical nature behind Collins’ announcement. To this group, it’s all about me, me, me, me, me; forget about you, you, you, you, you.

After all, Americans have a knack for pretending to be far more evolved than their words, let alone actions, often suggest. Say, the dawn of “post-racial America” with the election of President Obama. And apparently, straight men embracing the word “shade” ended longstanding homophobia.

The burden of homophobia

Not to be outdone, there are some gay writers rushing to play the role of Captain Contrarian because the timing of Collins’ big reveal wasn’t set to their timetable. Enter Bloomberg View writer Josh Barro, who wrote that he’s “already sick of hearing how ‘brave’” Collins’ column is.

To Barro: “A main reason professional sports (especially male team sports) have remained a bastion of homophobia is that gay players have failed to show leadership by coming out and insisting on acceptance. By coming out, Collins is fulfilling an obligation to lead — belatedly.”

The burden of homophobia should never be attributed to its victims. Moreover, it is easy for a gay white male whose profession is largely conducted by keyboard and seclusion to scold others without any consideration about their lives both in and outside of sports.

And of course, there’s been the issue of whether Jason Collins’ announcement “really matters” since he’s not a recognizable name in the NBA and may not be playing in the next season.

Identifying as gay and black

To be fair, that last critique holds some weight, but just for a second, can we stop nitpicking so much and sit and reflect about what has happened? Collins writes that while he didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American sport, “I’m happy to start the conversation.” Oh, how we need to have conversation about ‘the gay’ and its stigmas.

Regardless of how important or unimportant this story is to you personally, reflect on how Collins kicks off his column: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

Like Nevada State Sen. Kelvin Atkinson (D – North Las Vegas), who recently came out during a legislative debate on removing the gay marriage ban from the state constitution, he did so by saying, “I’m black. I’m gay.”

As a gay and a black, each reads as more of a statement of fact than any particular additional statement. Those of us who are gay and black identify as both gay and black because that’s who we are. The significance of when someone in the public eye who is gay and black states such is it sheds much-needed light on a group that has long been excluded.

That means the world to other black gays who have long clamored for varied images of what a gay black man looks like. It means even more when the likes of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Jason Kidd, Tony Parker, Baron Davis, and others in the league lend their support.

To those who keep saying that they can’t wait until “coming out” is not a big deal anymore: Same here, but that’s not today so you needn’t state the obvious every other second.

A long ways to go

We need more to come out for good reason. Frank Ocean came out, but his motives are still being questioned. Bisexual rapper Angel Haze has to explain bisexuality to the simpletons on social media. Already, ESPN’s Chris Broussard is calling Jason Collins’ Christianity into question on the grounds of his sexual orientation.

Sexuality may not be a “big deal” to everyone, but it remains a big deal for far too many. We collectively have a long way to go when it comes to our attitudes and treatment of gay people – particularly gay people of color. The more people like Jason Collins step up, reveal themselves and simultaneously challenge our view of gays, the better off we’ll be.

You don’t have to “care” about it, but it shouldn’t be that hard to see why others do.

Follow Michael Arceneaux on Twitter @youngsinick