The last few days have seen something dramatic in the world of sports: for the first time, an active player on a professional team in either the NBA, MLB, NFL or NHL has announced publicly that he is homosexual. This ground-breaking event has led many to compare the player, Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards, with baseball’s Jackie Robinson. That compassion, in my opinion, is absurd.
Now I am not launching into any political or religious debates in this space. Jason Collins is gay. We are not here to discuss his legal right to marry someone or whether or not he should be supported by some church body. That is not the issue at hand here and if you wish to discuss those issues, I invite you to take to social media and discuss with your social circles in whatever means you feel necessary.
The discussion here revolves around sports and the breaking down of barriers. What Collins has done is monumental and over the course of the next NBA season or two, we will discover what impact it truly has on his teammates, opponents, and the league as a whole. He is the first person to openly proclaim a sexual preference towards the same sex in this type of setting and that decision, most likely, will influence others to do the same. The day will dawn soon enough that players in the other major sports will follow Collins lead and announce that they too are gay.
Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. He found his way on to a Major League Baseball team in an era where players openly stated that they would not play with a man of color. Owners had banned the thought of a black man on a roster. He was not a player on a team that suddenly decided that the world should know something about him that they did not. He was not a player that was concerned with how he would be received.
Therein lies the largest difference in the situation. The world will tune in to see how Collins is received and analysts will break down every incident to see if it is fueled by some degree of hate. There was very little doubt when it came to Robinson. The world was at a turning point and he was at the center of it. Robinson would deal with hate and ridicule at every turn.
The idea that Jason Collins is Jackie Robinson is a stretch based on the idea that all civil rights issues, of which the rights of gay people are classified, are the same.
Jason Collins is free to eat anywhere he wants. There are no hotels that restrict a gay person from renting a room. I have yet to see a sign in a window proclaiming “Straight Only”. He will not have to use a different entrance to an establishment or a different bathroom or have to sit in designated seating because he is gay. He did not enter a league that previously had told people like him that they could not be here.
The world is a much different place in many ways and very similar in others. Hate crimes run rampant and extremists exist in all areas of the world. Collins will face adversity and challenges that are very different from what Robinson was challenged by. They will be on a different level and, more than likely, be far less extreme.
Collins, I will admit courageously, stepped forward to announce that he was different. He may have inspired others to do the same or helped others realize that it is okay. It is a moment in sports that will leave his name etched into history.
But there is only one Jackie Robinson.
Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
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