On Day 2, the Jason Collins story became a little more complicated.
Except maybe in the narrow mind of ESPN basketball analyst Chris Broussard -- who said that Collins is “walking in open rebellion to God” -- there aren’t any value judgments to be made. What does seem worth discussing, in the wake of the flood of media coverage -- plus a mention at a presidential press conference -- is whether we are maybe giving this story a little more attention than it deserves. The answer is yes and no.
To begin with, sports rhetoric is, almost by definition, hyperbolic. So it stands to reason that sportswriters and commentators wouldn’t exactly engage in understatement when an active NBA player comes out as gay in a Sports Illustrated cover story. (“For as long as I had written about this issue and as many times as I had said in recent years that ‘this will happen in a matter of months if not weeks,’ it still hit me like a triple-shot of espresso cut with a teaspoon of Adderall,” wrote sports columnist Dave Zirin in the Nation.)
More to the point, where you stand on this core question -- How big a deal is it? -- depends largely on where you sit. From outside the world of sports, it might seem crazy that a 34-year-old guy coming out would qualify as a courageous move. Just last month, after all, a national poll found that 58 percent of Americans support gay marriage, with just 36 percent opposing.
It’s easy to forget, though, that in the hyper-macho world of sports, masculinity and homophobia have long been one in the same. Look no further than one of the first high-profile athletes to publicly commend Collins for his bravery: Kobe Bryant. Shortly after the SI story was published yesterday, Bryant tweeted this: “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others.” A few short years ago, of course, Bryant himself was one of those ignorant others: He was caught on camera yelling the anti-gay slur “faggot” during a game.
So the sports world has a long way to go. But it's catching up fast. The next time an active athlete comes out, he probably won't get the cover of SI or a shout-out from the president. That will be a further sign of progress.
(Jonathan Mahler is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)