Yesterday I blogged about the false equivalence between Jason Collins' self-outing and Tim Tebow's Christian crusade. I argued that Collins and Tebow actually seek polar-opposite aims — the former wants to make the hot-button issue of sexual orientation in sports irrelevant, and the latter aims to elevate a mostly irrelevant factor in sports to exalted status.
Another point I (and others) made is that Collins faces a much higher risk of reprisal for opening up than does Tebow. Defenders of the Jesus-loving journeyman insist otherwise, citing commentary from his plentiful haters as proof that persecution cuts both ways. If anything, they'll say, it's Tebow who has it worse, because he's just being a good Christian and not pushing an agenda like the other guy. Can't we just accept that both sides have it rough and go from there?
We absolutely cannot do that.
To explain why not, I'm going to use a sports analogy. But it's true of life in general.
Every true sports fan has within them something I call "sports hate." Such is what allows a rational, loving, functioning, taxpaying human being to call for professional athletes to hurt themselves and/or die in a fire on game days. Sometimes that rage is directed even at an underwhelming home team (guilty). Sports hate can be raw, visceral and vociferous, but it's also momentary. It has a specific context that keeps it rightfully boxed out of reality.
Take a random football fan I just made up named Blake the Barista. Blake, a Jets fan, sports-hates Tim Tebow. If you ask him why, he'll say, "Tebow really stunk up the Jets' depth chart. He was a mediocre passer who added little of value to a floundering offense. Also, I couldn't stand all the posturing. So he's a Christian? Big deal! I know tons of Christians. Maybe Tim should've pulled his nose out of his Bible a bit and studied his playbook a little more. Then I could deal with the hype. Anyway, good riddance to him."
Chances are, however, that Blake's sports hate doesn't translate to real hate. "Would I serve Tebow if he walked in here and wanted coffee? Of course I would. I might even tell my friends about it later. I'm sure he's a decent guy in person. I don't wish anything terrible upon him."
This sentiment, I think, is typical of sports fans who are also human beings. Eight years ago, I wrote a blog titled, "Why Brett Favre is scum." Even in that highly regrettable piece, I commended Favre for his wit. My insistence that he was scum was based solely on the fact that he helmed the Packers and they had just blown out my Saints. (I'd be tolerant of any dip-chewing rednecks in Saints uniforms, after all, including him.) Even then, though, if Brett had occupied my space, I'd be in awe of the guy and remember the experience always. Because sports hate is not real hate. Sports hate is pointless whining by irrelevant people (again, guilty). It's an inevitable aspect of any high-profile job or pastime.
Collins, on the other hand, is black and gay, a member of two groups that face very real hate all the time. People who have no inkling of Collins' career stats or presence on the court would be happy to spit in his coffee, call him a scumbag to his face or worse. Very little of the criticism I've seen against Collins this week has anything to do with his game — it's all about his announcement, which gave homophobes a new guy to hate. That's real hatred, and Collins refused to let its perilous potential keep him from being true to himself.
Tebow, to his credit, has also been true to himself. But he suffers far less in terms of innate hate. Were he on par with Roger Staubach, Reggie White, Randall Cunningham or other religious legends, Tim's religiosity would barely matter. But no matter how hard Collins plays from here on out, he will always be the gay NBA guy in a nation still coming to grips with homophobia. The difference is stark.
In general, Americans fighting for equal rights always have targets on their backs — real, literal targets at which violent people wish to aim. That must never be equated with either sports hate or the false martyrdom of those yanking back the bow.