Whoever came out first was going to be the right one. Whoever did it, whatever his personality, we were going to salute his honesty and courage. But Jason Collins is more than the right one. He's the perfect one.
If you're willing to read just one story about Collins, the 12-year NBA veteran who on Monday became the first active athlete in a major U.S. professional sport to come out as a gay man, don't read this one. My words? They're no good compared to Jason Collins' words. He wrote them for Sports Illustrated, and he wrote them perfectly. He wrote them so well that he changed my story before I had the chance to write it.
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What was I going to write? Something daring the NBA to do the right thing and give Jason Collins a job next season. Don't do to Jason Collins what the NFL appears to be doing to Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo. Kluwe and Ayanbadejo aren't gay, but they are the most vocal supporters of gay rights in the NFL -- and both either are, or are about to be, unemployed. Coincidence? I don't believe in coincidences.
Now we'll see if Jason Collins, who has found a job for 12 years in the NBA, can't find a job for a 13th season after coming out as a gay man. What a coincidence that would be.
Anyway, that was going to be my story when the news broke Monday morning about Jason Collins. But then I read his story. I read his words. And realized, this is not the day to defend Kluwe and Ayanbadejo. This is not the day to dare NBA teams to find a roster spot for Collins -- nothing in the starting lineup, don't be silly, but somewhere at the end of the bench where Jason Collins resides, where there is always room for a smart 7-footer with six hard fouls he's willing to give.
This is the day to read Jason Collins' words, and depending on where you stand on this issue, to do one of two things: To celebrate them ... or learn from them.
Because it's like I said: Jason Collins was the ideal man for this role. A smart guy who is able to communicate perfectly. Able to explain himself, his past, his present. Willing to tell us that his twin brother, Jarron, "was downright astounded" when Jason came out to him last year.
"So much for twin telepathy," Jason Collins wrote.
Collins says he "once fouled a player so hard that he had to leave the arena on a stretcher. I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay?"
Collins notes that he had no fear of a monster like Shaquille O'Neal, and even threw in a teasing aside: "Note to Shaq: My flopping has nothing to do with being gay."
He's perfect, Jason Collins. Able to defuse the tension with humor, and willing to attack the tension with abject honesty by explaining how hard it was for him to be gay in a world that prefers its gay athletes to not ask, not tell.
"No one wants to live in fear," Collins wrote. "I've always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don't sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew."
Read Jason Collins' words. Open your mind. Understand that you don't know what you don't know. That's where so many people are with the issue of homosexuality in sports. They don't know what they don't know, so they fall back on clichés they've heard, easy platitudes that make superficial sense.
Why announce you're gay? Who cares?
Well, see, the world we live in is a world that assumed Jason Collins was straight. It assumes every player in the NBA (and NFL, and MLB) is straight -- and of course most are. Statistics tell us that. But statistics also tell us that some are gay.
And there's the problem: We live in a world that assumes gay athletes are straight.
And so the gay athlete either tells us what Jason Collins just told us -- no, I'm gay -- or he lives a lie. He lives in fear that he cannot tell the world who he really is, because the world will lash out. Maybe he will lose his job. Maybe he will be booed by fans or ostracized in the locker room. Look, we don't know. Even Jason Collins doesn't know. Not until the next six or eight months play out.
That's why gay athletes don't come out. Big strong men, famous and muscular and enormous, are scared to say they are exactly who they are. Imagine that. Imagine something as self-defining as your sexuality being a secret. Imagine living in the spotlight of the NBA (or NFL or MLB) and having to hide something as big as that. Sounds like hell on earth.
I've endured years of misery to live a lie.
So learn from Jason Collins. Learn, first and foremost, that sexuality is not a choice. Did you, Mr. Straight Man, choose to be straight? When you were in seventh or eighth grade and starting to notice sexual stirrings, did you notice them when you looked at girls and boys? Of course not. Because your sexuality wasn't a choice. You didn't decide to be attracted to girls. You just were.
Same with gay people. They didn't decide to be gay. They just are.
But again, don't listen to me. Listen to Jason Collins: "When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her."
A friend of mine in Cincinnati, a man named Tony, dated women. Then he married a woman. He was gay, but he was married. Why? Because he thought he had to live a certain way. The marriage fell apart because he was living a lie. He was gay. He is gay. That wasn't his choice, just his life.
This is Jason Collins' life, and he's ready to live it in the open. More athletes will join him, because the world is changing. Hateful people like Dallas pastor Robert Jeffers, people who say gay men are going to hell, still have followers but their grasp on the world is slipping. Good doesn't always beat evil, but it's starting to win this battle. Jason Collins landed an enormous shot Monday. More will follow. Soon there will be so many publicly gay athletes that we won't write about it. It won't be news.
Today is not that day. Today it is news, and it's good news. No, it's great news.
And Jason Collins will sleep well tonight.