Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Professional athlete comes out... what does the response say about us?

Did you hear about the basketball player who came out of the closet? Her name is Brittney Griner, and she's played for Baylor University. She's the #1 draft pick for the WNBA, and her coming out is certainly a momentous occasion for professional sports...

Wait... Is she not the basketball player you were thinking of? Perhaps you were thinking of Latasha Byears, who is one of the best players in the WNBA's history? No? Maybe you were thinking of Sheryl Swoopes? Or  Michele Van Gorp? Maybe Sue Wicks? Maybe Ann Wauters?

No, of course not. You were thinking of that Jason Collins fellow, surely. But I think I make a point that there is already a list of professional women basketball players who are out, and for whom there is little fanfare.

I don't want to take anything away from Jason Collins. Coming out of the closet is a Big Deal. Having the courage to step into one's authentic life is an act of revolution. I am fully supportive of Mr. Collins.

Further, I do hope this paves the way for other athletes to come out, regardless of what league they are playing in. Professional athletes deserve to live their authentic truth, too.

Even further, I want to support and recognize what Mr. Collins actually said: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." This might be a way to start talking about the intersection between race and sexual orientation, and that would be a good thing for our culture as well.

But our national news media is not interested in those things, by and large. This is not a story of a man trying to live his truth. If that were the story, it would have been just as big a news story when the athletes I listed earlier came out.

The point of this little post is this: Mr. Collins' coming out of the closet is a big news item for two reasons. One, because it might discomfort heterosexual men, who are the only ones anyone is talking about. ("Will the fans follow him? What will his fellow teammates think?" Notice the assumption here that the fans and teammates are heterosexuals who are likely to be threatened, and not queer folks who are likely to feel validated.) And two, because it might cost someone some money. ("Will people still watch? Will sponsors back out?")

It's still early days on this, and maybe someone else will say something more insightful later, and I'll be able to post a link to that. But for now, I think it is always interesting to notice when the power lines of our culture are exposed. And here, it's about heterosexual privilegehegemonic masculinity, and profit. And so good for Jason Collins coming out of the closet, and challenging those things.

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