By penning a first-person story for Sports Illustrated this week, Jason Collins, most recently of the Washington Wizards, became the first openly gay, active male athlete in a major American professional team sport. Those are a lot of qualifiers — there have been famous gay athletes, athletes who came out in retirement, gay Olympians and openly gay active female athletes. From Billie Jean King to Greg Louganis to John Amaechi, American professional athletes have pushed against the homophobia (whether real, perceived or both) of professional sports.
And, indeed, in today’s America, where even many prominent conservatives are lining up in support of gay marriage, it hardly seems like a hostile climate in which to come out.
But that shouldn’t diminish the fact that Collins took a very brave step in doing something he didn’t have to do. Most importantly, he signaled to other black, young athletes that being gay doesn’t make you any less of a man.
The news prompted a debate, however, on what it means to be a hero.