Two days ago, Jason Collins became the first openly gay player to participate in an NBA basketball game. Michael Sams, a linebacker from the University of Missouri, stands to become the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team at some point during the upcoming Draft. Both of these men are obviously making waves in their respective sports and driving conversation throughout the country about civil rights, inclusion, and tolerance in locker rooms and beyond. Collins’ and Sams’ sagas are a mirror of the current state of American society. Seventeen states have already legalized same-sex marriage and others have legislation pending. No doubt the times they are a changin’ to quote Dylan.
That’s great. I don’t have a problem with same-sex marriages or gay players in pro sports (or college, high school, rec leagues, and intramural), or two guys holding hands or two girls kissing. Live your life as you want to live it. I take flack from some devout Christian friends, but I’m okay with that. My religious views and views on civil rights do not interfere with each other. In many ways, I have a “wall of separation” between my religion and my politics. Having said all that, I do have one serious problem with the rash of Sam and Collins supporters — especially sportswriters and sports announcers who should know better — I’m tired of hearing these two guys compared to Jackie Robinson. Let me be clear, what Sam and Collins are doing is vitally important, but THEY ARE NOT JACKIE ROBINSON and putting them with Jackie is comparing cauliflowers with cantaloupes.
First off, neither is the talent Robinson was. Collins is an eight-team journeyman player who had been out of basketball nearly a year before the also-ran Brooklyn Nets signed him to a ten-day contract. Sam is an unknown commodity yet to play in the NFL, but it’s not like he set the world on fire at Mizzou. Jackie Robinson was a six-time All-Star. He was the Major League Rookie of the Year in 1947. He won the 1949 batting title and was twice the stolen bases champion. Doesn’t matter that he broke the color barrier as well — he had the goods on the field too. Jackie broke the color barrier, not because he was a black player, but because he was the BEST black player. He might have been many things, but Jackie Robinson wasn’t a gimmick. I may be proven wrong, but neither Collins nor Sam is likely to have their jersey number retired by an entire league.
Secondly, neither Sam nor Collins have had to endure ANYTHING approaching the abuse Robinson faced in his early MLB career and they NEVER will. It’s a different country now and people would go to jail for Federal hate crimes if they talked the way crowds spoke to Robinson. When Sam takes the field for whatever team drafts him, no one — especially an opposing manager — is going to yell out “Faggot! Get back to the gay clubs,” but a Philadelphia Phillie manager screamed at Jackie to “get [his] nigger ass back to the cotton fields!” Any team Sam or Collins plays for will not have to choose between sleeping in a hotel without them or sleeping as a team on the bus with them the way the Brooklyn Dodgers sometimes had to choose on their road trips. Perhaps people’s feelings about those who are different from them haven’t changed, but today’s bigots can’t hide behind badges and laws . . . at least in America — in Uganda or Saudi Arabia, you’ll have to take your chances.
Also, a rabid bigot may see gays and lesbians everywhere, but demographic experts put the HIGHEST number of gays at 10% of the American population while a reputable Gay and Lesbian think tank put the numbers between 5% to 8%. By contrast, 15% of Americans are Black and that doesn’t include the further people the census say identify as “other race.” Sam and Collins are representing a sometimes vocal community, but Jackie Robinson had the hopes of an entire PEOPLE on his broad shoulders, and those people were in constant danger just for being themselves. According to the Tuskegee Law Institute, 3445 black men were lynched — murdered without trial — in the United States from 1882-1968. Sure, gay people have endured violence, but nowhere near the scale black people faced. A black child could be murdered WITHOUT PENALTY in parts of the US as late as the 1950s just for “talking fresh” to a white woman. Don’t think so? Google Emmitt Till. That is the kind of vitriol Jackie Robinson faced when he was out on the playing field.
Finally, and this won’t be popular, but all Sam and Collins had to do to live quiet normal lives was simply to keep their mouths shut. They chose to come out; no one twisted their arms. I realize no one should have to hide being gay to play his chosen sport much less live a regular life. I agree, I understand the argument, and sooner or later it’s not going to be that way, but the fact remains, a gay person can hide being gay, but a black person has ZERO chance of hiding being black. People are arguing both ways about homosexuality — is it birth or is it choice? The jury may be out on what makes people gay, but no one is debating what makes a person black. White people are born white; black people are born BLACK. You have more chance of hiding a golf ball in a glass of spring water than being a “closeted black man.”
So, Michael Sam and Jason Collins are definitely moving the conversation on equality of sexuality in this country forward, but to put them into the same mold of Number 42 is a poor comparison at best and cauliflowers to cantaloupes at worst.
Hope I didn’t make anyone too mad, but if I did, it’s like a bridge . . . you’ll get over it. In any event, love y’all and keep those feet clean.