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He shouldn’t have to do it

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

A lot of people – especially media types – have been hyper-excited in recent days about the announcement by a professional athlete that he’s a gay man. In fact, national reaction got so heady even the President of the United States called to wish him well. Here – in our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods – the best emotion I could come up with was one of “so what?”

Jason Collins and all play-for-pay athletes are usually judged by the statistical record created during their years in any sport. As they should be. In Collins’ case, the best that can be said is he’s a good, workmanlike guy who holds up his corner on a basketball court as he’s hired to do. Certainly not a star in the manner of a Michael Jordan or Larry Bird. Just a guy who does his job.

At the age of 34, Collins is close to the end of a moderately successful career. In fact, a lot of sports fanatics believe, had he not made his sexual orientation announcement, he’d probably not have been back next year. But now that he’s done so, predictions are media/public pressure on NBA Commissioner Stern will probably result in one or more teams offering him another year or two of playing. For the wrong reasons.

After Collins’ announcement of his homosexuality, I really didn’t have a reaction – just a sense of blah – and “Well, O.K.” I wasn’t sure why until I read a comment from the aged Dr. Ruth Westheimer saying she was “sad.” That I could relate to.

Psychosexual therapist Dr. Ruth has been around for many, many years. At just under five feet tall – with the demeanor and huge smile of a marvelous Jewish grandmother to the nation – she’s been a fixture on late night TV shows for decades and published several books dealing with nearly every possible topic related to sex and our sexuality. I only point out her size, heritage and grandmotherly appearance because those attributes have given her a lot of freedom to say things sexually explicit other professionals would never have gotten away with. Starting in the late 1950′s with Jack Paar, Dr. Ruth has charmed the nation.

And what’s the reaction to Collins’ news from this noted liberal, sexual therapy professional? “I find it very sad. I have mixed feelings we even have to talk about it. In my opinion, this is a private matter and everybody should be respected for who they are.” Dr. Ruth said she fears Collin’s “coming out” will put pressures on other athletes to “explain their sexual orientation and they shouldn’t have to.”

She’s right, of course. No one – male or female – should have to explain their sexual makeup to the world. That Collins or anyone else today feels the need to do so is unimportant. We are what we are. We are who we are.

As in many things, women in sports got to the public sexuality identity arena first. Billie Jean King in the ‘70′s. Martina Navratilova “came out” in ‘81. Neither world ended. In fact, Navratilova’s career continued professionally for more than 20 years. Since then, more tennis players, golfers, soccer players and other professional sports participants have publicized their sexuality. For reasons apparently known only to mental health professionals, front office business types and jock males, no man in our world of professional team sports has “admitted” his gayness.

I don’t mean to discount some of the “reasons” that have been advanced – bad for business, clubhouse reaction, team unity, etc. I’m sure there’s some validity to those and other observations. The question is: why? Why should there be?

In a world awash with public sexual activity all around us – living with majority attitudes of openness and too many instances of excess – entertainment and other media filled with sexual orientations of every imaginable kind – what’s taken our national community so long to accept gay male athletes? Did we think homosexuality didn’t exist in the world of jock straps and open showers before this week? Did we believe only women were capable of same-sex lives?

Yes, a segment of our society will be outraged. So what? That segment lives in a permanent case of outrage over things that don’t conform to their narrow view of the world they already see. Politics. Abortion rights. People of a different race or ethnic origin. Any religion beyond their own version of Christianity. Sexuality. Again – so what?

A lot of folks hope other gay male professional athletes follow the example of Jason Collins and put their sexuality on the public record. I hope they don’t. It changes nothing in their contributions to their various sports. It doesn’t make them less valuable to a team. In this day and age, it shouldn’t be important. Because it’s not.

And, frankly, it’s none of our damned business!

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