There are moments that shape us. Indelible in their mark, perhaps mostly because they juxtapose all the greatness and fallibility inherent in the human condition. We are a work in progress, a collective community, driven by division, in a journey better served by the celebration of inclusion. There are heroes among us that engage us in a conversation to be better. They ask us to step outside the framework of prejudice and embrace the notions of empathy and equality. They stand tall amidst the visceral backlash of ignorance. This week, Jason Collins stood with 7 feet of dignity, becoming the first active male professional team sport athlete to identify himself as gay.
The measure of his actions are immense and cannot be understated. Globally, the world of male sport is a $121 trillion engine of celebrity; an engine largely defined by the very hyper-masculinity that one equates with male comic-book superheroes. They leap tall buildings. They save people in distress. In fact, they save women in distress, because heretofore, the world of male sport did not allow for the word gay to be included in any discussion of manhood, particularly, athletic manhood. In that world, and by tangent beyond, the definition of manhood simply did not include, or allow for, differences in sexual orientation. It was a compartmentalized definition, one of exclusion that created nowhere for gay male youth to find positive self-identity in their athletic heroes. Sadly, absurdity has a long shelf life. This absurdity, in the top-shelf status that we have assigned male sport, carried on until this past Sunday, when Jason Collins pulled it off that top shelf and threw it into a national conversation about civil rights and about our skewed view of what defines manhood. There should be many definitions of healthy manhood. Jason Collins reminds us of that.
This is a watershed moment. It is a call-out of our collective conscience about human rights. The historical examples of sport moving the social justice continuum forward are many. Cooperative spirit is the essence of teamwork. It can be reasonably stated and argued that there is a direct line from Jackie Robinson to Barack Obama. Still, watershed moments are not and should not be confused with institutionalized change. Despite the great example of Obama, we do not live in a post-racial world and similarly, the Jason Collins announcement will not rid us of the visceral scourge of homophobia. The bystanders that empower and cheer him today cannot abandon him tomorrow. Their continued proactivity is essential to making the impact of Jason’s step a giant one, particularly for gay youth.
There should be many definitions of healthy manhood. Jason Collins reminds us of that.
On a national level, bullying specific to LGBTQ youth, is shamefully widespread with extremely high percentages of incidents ranging from daily derogatory language to cyber-bullying to physical harassment. As such, the conversation that Jason Collins has engaged us all in cannot be a one-off. We are all better because of his action. But we remain complicit in the ignorance that created his pain, and the pain of innumerable others, if we fail to champion his message of fairness.
The role of education in this challenge is paramount. Northeastern’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society at The College of Professional Studies offers extensive curriculum that engages participants in conversation around homophobia, heterosexism and the power of inclusion. There are leadership programs throughout the fabric of the college. Acceptance at CPS has a far greater meaning than simply matriculation.
Dan Lebowitz was interviewed about Jason Collins’ coming out by New England Cable News.
The photo that accompanies this post originally appeared on Mashable.