Tuesday, April 30, 2013

on the "coming out" of Jason Collins

Coverage of Jason Collins' historic announcement in the WaPo article by Dave Sheinin and Michael Lee  (h/t: C-J)...

I have not yet read the SI article-- and look forward to that-- but for now, a few thoughts on Mr. Collins (given what's portrayed in this article): 

-This moment was inevitable, but someone had to be first. Whatever this does for/to his conscience, his wallet, etc., my guess is that Collins has looked at "the market" of history and made a wise investment in his future and his (worldly) legacy.

-The SI article begins with: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” First words are important-- particularly in this sort of context. What's interesting about what Collins did and did not say?

1.) Especially in matters of race and sexual orientation, it's really interesting that the weight one attaches to various aspects of identity can vary so much. Part of this is personality and preferences. Part of it is ideology and worldview. Part of it is the cultural context in which one lives, especially for those in a minority where there is some social tension.
In our context, with two bi-racial boys, it's interesting to consider the extent to which we emphasize that they are boys-- and the extent to which they are bi-racial. Gender and race are part of our identity. But where do they rate in a Top Ten list, compared to other attributes-- religious belief, education, character traits, sexual orientation, etc.? When we were reading the literature on race and adoption, it was interesting to learn that race is #1 for some people (particularly for those who write books on the topic!); for others, it barely makes the Top Ten.

2.) Collins chooses to describe his identity in (only) five ways: age, occupation, size, race, and sexual orientation. I'm guessing that sexual orientation comes last for dramatic affect. But which of these five are most important to him? Why didn't he list others (e.g., gender-- which is actually key to this moment in history)? He chose aspects of his identity that he does and does not control. He did not choose any character traits (e.g., kind, aggressive, courageous). More broadly: When I describe myself, what does it say about me-- or how I sell or see myself-- that I say or leave out certain things? 

For the Christian, our (first) identity is in Christ. I Corinthians 6:9-11 is quite helpful here: "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

-“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport,” Collins wrote. “But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.” 

I believe him when he says it was not (initially) a goal. But to be clear, because no one had done this before, he *is* the kid in the classroom saying he's different. Nobody had-- and he feels compelled at this point-- and so here we are. He gets to be historic, but he can't claim that he's not being historic. 


At April 30, 2013 at 12:57 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

What's surprising to me is how long it took for a pro athlete to come out as gay---there have been openly gay entertainers, such as Elton John, for many years, and same-sex marriage is already legal in 11 states. But apparently the sports world still has problems, as demonstrated by the recent episode where it was learned that the Rutgers basketball coach used anti-gay slurs to shame his players. And ESPN basketball commentator Chris Broussard saw fit to criticize Collins for "unrepentant sin" and "living in rebellion to God"; he said he "would not characterize that person as being Christian."

At April 30, 2013 at 12:59 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

To that point, it's interesting that Broussard has been supported by ESPN (so far, at least explicitly). I wonder if that will change/reverse, one day, as well-- whether one type of religious/social belief will be discriminated against.

At April 30, 2013 at 1:09 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Actually, I'm glad ESPN is supporting Broussard, if that's true, although it would certainly be appropriate for ESPN to distance itself from his comments.

At April 30, 2013 at 1:11 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...


At May 3, 2013 at 12:33 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

An interesting article contrasting the reaction to Tebow and to Collins, and other black Christian athletes.
Why Jason Collins’ Faith is Ignored... And Tebow’s Isn’t (T. F. Charlton).

At May 3, 2013 at 1:15 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Collins should not be identified by his religion-- because he did not identify himself that way. That's related to one of the points I made in the blog. At best, it's sixth on his own list-- and it begs questions about the sincerity/extent of religious faith (vs. cultural embrace of a religion) when it doesn't rank higher on one's list.

The question of African-American Christian sports figures is more interesting. That said, I can think of a handful quickly: Dungy, Ray Lewis, Deion Sanders, A.C. Green, and locally, Peyton Siva.


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