I know a bit about the Bible, though not as much as I should. I got a kind of late start on reading it regularly, but I am learning a little more with each passing day. I also know a bit about sports, though more than I probably should. I have been studying sports for a lot longer than the Bible so I naturally seem to know more about sports. Every once in a while these two worlds collide.
A couple of weeks ago, Jason Collins, who is a center for the NBA’s Washington Wizards publicly declared his homosexuality. According to most sports media perspectives, this is the first time an active athlete in major professional sports has openly declared their homosexuality. This immediately became big news. It even made the cover of Sports Illustrated.
As the media jumped all over this announcement, I couldn’t help but think that they might have “boxed themselves out.” When you “box out” in the game of basketball, you are strategically using your body to try to position (and legally push) your way toward getting a rebound. When there are two players who want to occupy the same space, there is definitely going to be some pushing and pressure applied. Sometimes, as you are trying to assert your will and move an opponent, you will actually find yourself out of position. If you push too hard or have the opponent shift just slightly on you, you will find yourself behind the backboard (where only an arrent shot will go) or directly under the basket (where only a made shot-that does not need to be rebounded-will go). Such actions will lead to you, in essence, boxing yourself out. You got where you were trying to go, but then found it didn’t have the benefit that you had hoped for. I wonder if the coverage of this story hasn’t created a similar situation for the media as well as our society in general.
All this attention may be a moot point. Jason Collins is now a free agent and the Wizards are already done for the year, so if another team or the Wizards do not sign Jason to a contract, we still will not have an openly gay “active” major professional athlete. By October of 2013, this may be a non-story.
It is interesting that it just happens to be Washington where he plays ball. It has been said that during the media day of the 1988 Super Bowl, in which the Washington Redskins were participating, Washington Redskins QB Doug Williams was asked, “How long have you been a black quarterback?”
This sums up a litany of questions that were fired at Williams at that time that focused more on the color of his skin than on his ability as a player. Those questions became a summation of the ignorance and bigotry that existed then and can still be evident even today in “jock culture.”
We do consider ourselves to have “evolved” since those days. Just last year, the Redskins drafted their next star QB with their first pick. Robert Griffith III (RG III) did not receive attention because of his color like Williams did in the 80’s. Most of the discussion about that draft choice had to do with his size and the offensive system. No one cared that he was black. Everyone considered him to be electric, exciting, and a born leader. The only questions were simply if his stature was too small for the rigors of the NFL and if his “wide open” offense would translate well to the pros.
That is good, but have we really “evolved” as a society? What is interesting is that there is no such discussion being had about Jason Collins. Collins is your typical journeyman 7-footer. He’s probably not achieved all that some thought he would, though he has carved out a nice career for himself with several teams in the league.
Gay or straight, his career is coming to a close. He’s not overly effective for his role, but you do know exactly what you are getting from him. He is approaching the stage of his career where teams are going to want to go with a younger player, who currently may offer a little less than Collins, but in the future could offer more. He may legitimately never play in another NBA game. Even if he does, it may be another year or two before that happens. We are not talking about Collins because of his talent, his upside, his potential, or even his accomplishments achieved on the court.
We are only talking about Collins because he is gay.
This is why I think we, as a society, have found ourselves boxed out.
If homosexuality really is the next civil rights frontier, why are we willing to label this guy by his sexual orientation? Just like it was ludicrous to fuss about Doug Williams and it would be ridiculous to talk about RG III only as a “black quarterback.” Haven’t we done the same thing by labeling Collins as a “gay center?” If society has really advanced as some would claim it has, shouldn’t the off the court decisions of an average NBA player on a well-below-average NBA team be a non-story?
By touting his homosexuality as a big deal, isn’t that contradicting the idea that his homosexuality should be no big deal to us? It seems very contradictory to me.
But what if society wants to go the other way? What if we say, “After years of struggle and fighting against it, Collins finally made the decision to be gay and to quit hiding it.” Can we really follow that such a decision is his business alone and should not follow into the locker room?
When any athlete gets in trouble (either from his spouse, the law, or other spouses), our society has no problem talking about how that affects team chemistry. Even when Tim Tebow let it be known that he’s not going to have sex with anyone (until marriage), people even talk about how that will affect team chemistry.
Why does this one story suddenly become nobody’s concern and nobody’s business? Doesn’t such a call to “not judge” and not “let this effect team chemistry” mean we are actually treating it differently than others who are considered heterosexual?
It seems to me that morality and values are rubbing up against each other in our society. The values of the Bible and the values of the world are both jockeying for position. To some, it may seem like the world just gained some serious ground. The temptation of Christians may be to fight, claw, and try to push their way back on this issue. But I don’t think Christians need to. If you look closely, I think the world has moved themselves right out of the play.
As Christians, we should take advantage of the opportunity to explain that ethnicity, career, or sexual preference should not be what makes our identity. Christians should come alongside others and point out that we all clamor for the wrong identifiers. And then, and only then, may we proclaim the liberty that can only be found by being named “in Christ!” Only when we can judge all people equally, can we say that we really get it.