Columns, Opinion

SMITH: Gay rights and the American athlete

In the last several months, the U.S. has had some of its most meaningful discussions on the issue of gay rights. It started before the 2012 elections, when President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to declare his support for same-sex marriage. It then continued into 2013 with the widely publicized Supreme Court hearings regarding California’s controversial Proposition 8. In that time, the issue was battered back and forth between two sides who proved that though Americans were more receptive than ever to the idea of someone identifying as homosexual, they were also more deeply entrenched in whichever view they possessed.

The last few weeks seemed to represent a lull in that debate, until Monday, when current NBA player and recent Boston Celtic Jason Collins came out as gay, in a self-penned article for Sports Illustrated. The story ignited a firestorm of response across social media channels, ranging from full-fledged support from stars like Kobe Bryant, to more lukewarm responses like the one from Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace, who wrote on Twitter, “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess around with other guys … smh.”

Wallace later backed away from the tweet writing, “I’m not bashing anybody don’t have anything against anyone. I just don’t understand it.” So it seems Wallace merely had the misfortune of randomly letting the world know he was unclear on the concept of homosexuality on the same day as a major announcement within the issue. Right.

The political system of the U.S. is a bit of a conundrum internationally. Though we are afforded as a nation more freedom to express our specific goals and viewpoints, we are among the lowest internationally in voter turnout. One wouldn’t know this to switch on the news every day and find the latest berating of the self-interested Washington fat cats at the hands of the all too often self-anointed Average Joe. As a country, we complain often enough to give the impression we are really willing to do something about our problems.

All that stands more or less as the antithesis of our athletic ventures. Whereas other countries worldwide have a great amount of freedom and variety in the sports they enjoy, we in the U.S. have four: Football, baseball, hockey and basketball. Yet where there is a limit in variety there is an excess of passion. Think about people that you know who have not mentioned to you in the last year something about a sports team or player they support. The list is probably pretty short. Now think about people you know who’ve never mentioned which politician or political party they support, and the list grows significantly longer. The fact is, right or wrong, sports are a much more immediate lifeline to the consciousness of the American people than the government could ever hope to be. Sports, and the athletes who play them, are trusted by people who want nothing to do with complex moral questions of the world around them. They are trusted by people who are in no way reading this column right now.

What happens, though, when the pressing social issues of the U.S. are brought to the very space that is supposed to be a haven against them?

When Jason Collins steps onto the basketball court next year, when the cameras start rolling, it is inevitable that he will cease to be number 98, the center, the solid bench defensive presence, the guy who just blocked that shot. He will be the gay player, and people will have to deal with that in whatever way their inner sense of right and wrong tells them to.

Political litigation on the issue of queer civil rights is a noble and necessary pursuit. I do believe that in time it is this process, this fight, twill bring the changes we want to see in our society. But those are legal changes. Talk to a queer person and you will find that what bothers them just as much as coming second under the law is the daily discrimination they feel when they hold hands together in public, when they take their kids to soccer practice. I see sports as an antidote to this, the best one we’ve got at the present time.

Good things are sometimes lost on people when they wear a suit. That’s partly why we as Americans love pro sports so greatly — they’re not about much. They’re about teamwork, and vision, and speed, and sweat, and what city you play for. They’re about the color you wear on your back, yes, but at least regardless of what color that is you’ll have someone cheering you on.

Colin Smith is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, and a weekly columnist for The Daily Free Press. He can be reached at [email protected].

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