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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, MAY 3, 2013
BY BOB FRANKEN
Question: What do you call a man who is 7 feet tall and weighs more than 250 pounds? Answer: Whatever he wants. Yes, that’s an old joke, but here’s a new version: What do you call him when he announces “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay”? Same answer.
What he’s usually called is Jason Collins, and unless you’re in solitary, you’re aware that he’s the first active male professional athlete in the U.S. to declare his homosexual preference. Happily, the first question most people asked was, “So what?” The second one probably was, “Now that he’s out of the closet, what happens when he steps into the locker room?”
Based on most of the public responses from his fellow pro basketball players, very little will change. “I’m happy for him,” said Boston Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett. “We here support everything he’s doing, and I’m happy for him.” Even Kobe Bryant, who was once fined $100,000 for shouting an anti-gay slur at a referee, used Twitter to show his support and tell Collins he shouldn’t “suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others.”
There are some skeptics who say that many of those who really disapprove are not saying anything for fear of being ostracized. There’s some truth to that, particularly in the super-duper macho world of sports. But the fact that they’re keeping their homophobia to themselves is itself positive. In an amazingly short time, social attitudes about gays and others who make alternative choices have turned around in a remarkable way.
Look at how it became a nonevent when the U.S. military was ordered to drop “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Look at the states that have legalized same-sex weddings and the feeling of inevitability that so many others will follow because the polls show the voters don’t give a hoot. In fact, one of the big questions raised by hesitant Supreme Court justices, who will soon rule on two gay-marriage cases, was whether they really needed to make a decision, as opposed to allowing the political process to work.
This is not to say that everything is hunky-dory in the sexual-tolerance world. First of all, it’s hard to escape the fact that the biggest impediments to allowing the political system to do its magic is, uh, the politicians. Between their own fuddy-duddy hang-ups and, more importantly, their fear of Dark Ages bigots who push their agenda on elected officials with intimidating zealotry, the path to open-mindedness can be treacherous.
Take the halting steps toward reaching a rational policy on immigrants in the United States, another issue that’s permeated with ugliness. Even as conservatives try to at least appear enlightened, a compromise fails to include any mention of, you guessed it, gay rights. There is no mechanism to allow foreigners who are longtime same-sex partners of American citizens to get a green card. During the negotiations, Republicans made it clear that would be a deal-killer. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is reaping such favorable publicity for injecting common sense into immigration policy, is showing anything but when it comes to gays. “If that issue is injected into this bill,” he told an interviewer, “this bill will fail. It will not have the support. It will not have my support.”
Rubio is a big sports fan -- at least he says he is. One has to wonder if somehow Jason Collins would end up playing next in the NBA for Miami, whether the Heat would continue to have Rubio’s support.
As a matter of fact, another big question is whether Collins will be on any team next season. He’s a free agent who might otherwise have trouble finding work. Some suggest that his coming out will actually enhance his value. Does that represent progress? You bet. You might say it’s a slam-dunk.
© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.