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Jason Collins' announcement was big news, but it fell far short of matching the 5-year-old gun owner who shot his sister.

By Steve Doyle

Both stories appeared in the same position on the front page of the daily newspaper. The headline sizes were about the same, the impact of the stories nearly identical.

So it takes no degree in journalism to determine that editors believed each story to be almost equal in “weight” with the other. After all, any story at the top of a front page of an American newspaper is deemed to be important simply by geography.

Yet these two stories were hardly identical, hardly equal and hardly of the same importance.

One involved life, and the other was strictly about death. One was overplayed, the other underplayed. You can decide how you see that delineation.

But the announcement on front pages across America last Tuesday by professional basketball player Jason Collins that he was gay, however significant in the locker room, would seem to me to be several levels of magnitude below the one on Friday about the 5-year-old who used his own rifle to shoot and kill his 2-year-old sister while his mother was working in the next room.

First, I’m probably more tolerant of more lifestyles than most people you know. I left homophobia in the same trash can as racism, tossed there when broader exposure to tolerance and the spectrum of society washed over me. I’m sad that it took an awakening to do so.

I’ve also been around thousands of athletes and hundreds of locker rooms, and I grasp clearly the significance of what Jason Collins has done.

There aren’t many gray areas in the sometimes tenuous and ever important relationships of those clubhouses. Success and failure can be formed as surely on the acceptance and camaraderie of the athletes as it can on their abilities to run, jump and shoot. Delicate balances have been forged by deft psychologists, and egos and prejudices have fragmented the teams of greatest potential.

Jason Collins as a professional is no star. He is big and strong and smart and agile and fearless. He has developed an enviable career. He made millions, traveled well and enjoyed exotic places and opportunities. He was a more typical pro athlete, thriving below the realm of greatness but in the comfort zone of pension-building.

So I get what is at stake for him, but I don’t think it’s front-page news in a non-NBA city otherwise facing more imposing issues of its own. There is no room on the bandwagon of significance that tried to roll down the road of transformation that many are likening to that of Jackie Robinson. There was nothing here worthy of a call from the president and Oprah.

Please. Jackie Robinson righted a worldwide wrong. He broke a barrier and created opportunity for thousands of talented people who were under the thumb of prejudice and even hatred. His courage was as freeing in many ways as was that of Martin Luther King, and thankfully he didn’t have to die to prove it.

Jason Collins, however much I admire and respect what he did, is no Jackie Robinson.

Certainly his story is nowhere near as overwhelming and powerful as that of the little boy in Burkesville who picked up that rifle and ended not just his sister’s life but several lives, a gunshot that should resonate through every corner of every life in the country.

And although this story has had wings in social media and in some corners of commentary, that focus has been squarely in the giant shadow of Jason Collins when it comes to the national conversation. That, we mourn.

Why aren’t more people demanding to know why it’s OK to market and sell weapons – deadly weapons, not BB or pellet guns – to children? Why allow those weapons to have cute names and be created in kid friendly colors for boys and girls? Why is it OK to license a child who can’t write his name to be able to pick up a weapon and end a life, intentional or otherwise?

We might as well go ahead and make automobiles kid-sized and turn them loose on the roads, too. Autos are more deadly than guns, so we might as well let them “play” with all the toys that can kill.

Now, I’m not opposed to hunting or to parents’ teaching sons and daughters how to handle weapons responsibly. In  some families that is like teaching them to drive. It’s going to happen in their lives, gun exposure is, so let’s do it right and make it safe. The family in Burkesville likely was such a family, although it failed at some awful level.

No, what the problem here is that we apparently allow gun manufacturers to operate any money-grubbing way they want, which includes marketing deadly weapons for children.

We don’t allow tobacco companies and breweries to market to kids, but yet a child can be approached with a message as if a weapon emerged from Mattel and not Colt or Browning, a message shown to them as if it were part of a toy catalog from the presses of Sears or Toys R Us.

No, we can’t think about that. We have to be too worried about how a tall man has gone public with his sexual orientation.

We simply have lost perspective on what truly matters in life, and here’s part of my evidence.

In the past two weeks, as these issues were breaking, I received two powerful missives that expressed frankly and loudly how people were viewing the importance of the breaking news.

They were both about Jason Collins.

No one cared enough to write about a 5-year-old who owns a deadly blue gun.