Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The difference between Collins and Tebow

Jason Collins is the not the first athlete to come out as gay, but he is the first professional male athlete to do so while still an active player. If anyone wonders why that's significant, I'll boil it down to its purest essence:

He's doing it while still in the game. On the court. In the locker room. In American pro sports, the last bastion of open, macho homophobia. Though attitudes toward homosexuality in sports have improved drastically in recent years, there's still a long way to go. Collins is the first to say, "This is what I am and have always been. I'm not a freak and people like me should not have to live in secret amid fear of reprisal from ignorant people. Now, let's play some basketball!"

Today I've seen a lot of cartoons, graphics, statuses, tweets and e-mails from critics making the same point as the image above — "Oh, sure, Collins can trumpet his homosexuality, but Tim Tebow professes his Christianity and it's this big hoopty-doo!" (Not a direct quote, probably.)

Here's the difference.

Collins came out so people realize that gay people play sports, and that they shouldn't be persecuted for it. Just as Jerry Lewis said his goal with the MDA Telethon was to end the need for the telethon, Collins revealed his sexual orientation to make it irrelevant. In both cases, they have to be made relevant so people can address the problems and move on.

Tebow, on the other hand, has made Christianity a major part of his image. It's the predominant religion on the planet, and certainly in America. Not one pro athlete in the U.S. experiences prejudice and suspicion on the field, sidelines or locker room for being Christian. It wasn't a personal and career gamble for Tebow to declare his religion; if anything, it was a sure bet to stardom. For his entire pro career, the quarterback has reigned atop a hype pedestal out of line with his abilities.

(To the degree that people do diss Tebow, it's for his hype or his play, which is universal among even the most beloved athletes. Collins, on the other hand, is likely to engender a new brand of hatred as a direct result of his announcement. So even the hate is different.)

To recap: Collins is risking his reputation, and possibly his safety, to ensure a future where no one cares about an athlete's sexual preference. Tebow took something that most athletes believe or accept on some level and made sure everyone cared about it. That doesn't make him a bad person, but neither is he Collins' trailblazing equal.

Unless Tebow becomes the first openly gay NFL player, that is. 

It'd be interesting to see who wants who to shut up then.

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