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Changing America

For the first time, an active male player in one of the four major U.S. professional sports has announced he is gay.

Jason Collins, a reserve center for the Washington Wizards, came out of the so-called closet Monday. The historic pronouncement was published on Sports Illustrated's website.

"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center," wrote Collins. "I'm black. And I'm gay."

With that straightforward introduction, one more barrier has been taken down in this country's struggle to provide equal rights and treatment to all its citizens. It was a bold move -- although one that received praise from throughout the sporting world all the way up to the White House.

"I think the country is ready for supporting an openly gay basketball player," Collins said in an interview this morning.

Public attitude surveys certainly indicate this to be the case. It is not, however, overwhelmingly so. A General Social Survey conducted just last year found 43 percent of Americans thought sexual relations between adults of the same sex was morally wrong.

But the tide is turning.

And as society moves toward accepting people for who they are, shedding the unfounded stereotypes that have impeded progress, even those in the minority will have to begin changing their public viewpoints.

The biggest change likely will take place on the fields of play and lockerrooms at the youngest levels. The very taunts and homophobic slurs so commonplace in many of these venues soon will be a relic of days gone by. Open prejudice will need to disappear. Bullying that so often surfaces in the form of manly upbringing will need to stop.

The commitment to equality will need to be reinforced on a regular basis. Even those whose religious perspectives will make it difficult to accept will need to modify their public condemnation. The abomination so many refer to will need to join the ban on shellfish and working on Sundays as no longer relevant -- or acceptable -- in these United States. It is not an encroachment on one's freedom to worship. Instead, it is an end to blatant discrimination against those who dance to a different beat.

Jason Collins is to be congratulated for his bravery, and for utilizing his public position to help move the nation forward. The move is long overdue.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net