MY WORD: What Jason Collins did was not heroic

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By John Shindlebower

NBA player Jason Collins made headlines and history last week when he became the first active male player from one of the big four team sports to openly announce he was gay. Of all the adjectives used to describe the announcement,  “courageous’ seems to be the most oft-repeated. I disagree for two reasons.

One is that an act of courage is something done in the face of enormous opposition or overwhelming odds. We have been constantly told in recent years that America has now accepted homosexuality as normal behavior. The owner of Chick-Fil-A was vilified for being out-of-touch with the mainstream because he had the gall to regard marriage as an institution between one man and one woman. The Boy Scouts of America are scathed with criticism for their outdated policies that up to now have barred active homosexuals from 

joining as members or leaders.

The media and culture pound us with the message that homosexuality is no longer taboo. So if that’s truly the majority opinion of society, how much courage did it actually take for Mr. Collins to come out of the closet? Not much. He knew that he would be supported by the overwhelming majority of those in the media who would tout his announcement as groundbreaking and forward-thinking. He knew that pressure would be overwhelming for other 

athletes, public figures and even politicians to openly applaud his revelation, or to at least remain silent if they disapproved. Collins knew that this announcement would be met with nearly unanimous praise across the nation by voices that would either censor or shout down those who dared to offer up a different opinion.

The second reason that this announcement was not “‘courageous” was because it was a self-serving act by a 34-year-old player who is in his 12th season of a very modest career and finds himself as a free agent without a team. If he wants to keep playing, he needs to find a new employer. Becoming the Jackie Robinson of alternative lifestyles may make him a marketable asset for a team needing the publicity.

For his career, Collins has averaged fewer than four points and four rebounds a game. He is smart enough to realize that he may not hold as much value as a role player with less-than-impressive stats, but he might be able to sell himself a role model. NBA Commissioner

David Stern has already come out in full support of Collins, and he knows it’s in the league’s best interest to ensure he finds a team for at least one more season so they can parlay the feel-good media story into revenue and positive publicity.

I do not find Collins’ announcement to be courageous but, rather, one he  thought could be advantageous to his career. Most casual basketball fans probably knew little about Jason Collins before today. But now he finds himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated, we will hear him and see him on television interviews numerous times over the next few days, and there will be no shortage of features and profiles if and when he laces up his shoes next year to face the hecklers, bigots and homophobes the media will tell us will confront him at each game next season.

And how many businesses eager to prove they’re “on the right side of history” might eagerly line up to offer Collins an endorsement deal?

The real courage may be on display in the coming days and weeks from those who will brave national scorn and outrage and stand up for God’s standard. One ESPN writer is already on the hot seat for suggesting that he personally feels homosexuality is a sin, and several players have been backtracking and erasing some immediate tweets they posted that may not have met with league approval.

The sad truth in 2013 America is that tolerance is a 1-way street. Today, tolerance means agreeing with the culture even if it means forsaking your own personal or religious convictions.

If you own those seemingly controversial convictions like I do, I urge you not to allow the world to silence you. Know that you have the right to disagree and to voice your opinion. We don’t have a moral right to hate or harm, and what we say and do should always be done with respect. But let us demonstrate real courage by not being shamed into silence.

The world is indeed in need of role models – don’t miss your opportunity.


John Shindlebower lives in Finchville.