I was called “fag” or “homo” many times on the football field, and always when I was underperforming (which was often). Men’s athletics is a culture known for holding up homosexuality as a symbol of weakness. This is part of what makes Jason Collins’ announcement that he is gay an act of courage.**
It is beyond question that there are many other professional athletes who also identify as queer. In coming out, Collins hopes to provide an inspiration for other athletes to walk through. He also knows that the next few steps won’t be without some conflict. For instance, ESPN columnist Chris Broussard recently voiced a more traditional, conservative view of homosexuality, specifically suggesting that “living in an openly homosexual lifestyle” is “walking in open rebellion to God.” That is, of course, the line being kicked around FB and Twitter.
But I think both of these public statements, Collins’ and Broussard’s, are redemptive and essential steps forward. Furthermore I will suggest that, for many folks I know, Broussard’s public statement might be the more essential step. Referencing another openly homosexual member of the sports world, L.Z. Granderson, Broussard said..
He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years.” Broussard said “We’ve gone out, had lunch together, we’ve had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don’t criticize him, he doesn’t criticize me, and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant.
Yes, Broussard said something many would consider predictable insofar as he is a Christian; that he doesn’t see homosexuality as a good or godly way of life. But he also voiced his sentiment while acknowledging the basic humanity of those with whom he disagrees. You might think that’s short of what is needed, but I’m fairly convinced that such civility is far from a compromise… It’s an essential part of the story.
It’s easier to dismiss someone’s opinions, needs, desires, etc… if I consider them less human than I am. The angle of many political campaigns bends itself toward demonizing and dehumanizing one’s opponent. She’s a “liberal” or he’s a “threat” which makes them a set of ideas at best rather than a living, breathing person. That generations of Africans (and eventually African Americans) were considered less than human was the existential foothold of slavery and horrendously unjust Jim Crow laws. In the very checkered conversational history between The Church and the LGBTQ community, our worst efforts have made people into ideas (and dangerous ideas at that). But on either side of an ideological dispute are people made up of more than their ideas (and, vitally in this case, more than their sexuality).
Learning to disagree without dehumanizing those with whom we disagree (and especially about issues tied to identity) is as important an expression of grace as simply siding with someone. I think that’s where the hinges are that open doors to healthy, just and fruitful communities; communities marked by equality and fairness, even in light of serious differences in worldview.
Men in the culture of pro sports could use more examples like Broussard’s statement to more civilly deal with and express disagreement with or dislike of a teammate’s lifestyle. I think that’s a huge part of the road forward.
** For my non-sports-fan readers, Jason Collins is a professional basketball player who came out this week to publicly identify as queer. His public statement made quite a splash online yesterday, as was Collins’ expressed intent.