Collins, Sam pave the way for gay athletes

Collins%2C+Sam+pave+the+way+for+gay+athletes

Brooklyn Nets power forward and center Jason Collins prepares to check into game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 23. This is the first time in any of the major sports in the United States that an openly gay athlete has played in a game.

Seth Barshay, Sports Editor

In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for Major League Baseball (MLB), paving the way for countless athletes and more tolerance in sports.  As we approach Jackie Robinson Day, the anniversary of his major league debut, we can look back at 2014 so far as a momentous year for the LGBT community in sports.

On Feb. 23, Jason Collins  signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets.

He played that night in an away game against the Los Angeles Lakers, which made him the first openly gay athlete to play in any of the four major American sports leagues: the NBA, the MLB, the NFL, and the NHL.

Collins, currently playing his fourteenth season in the NBA, came out publicly in a Sports Illustrated cover story published on May 6 of last year.  Before that, he had played for the New Jersey Nets, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Atlanta Hawks, the Boston Celtics, and the Washington Wizards.

During his first tenure with the Nets, he was a teammate and good friend of Jason Kidd, who is now the head coach of the team.  Kidd was one of the advocates for signing Collins.

In his first game back with the Nets, Collins wore the number 46. However he has since changed his number to 98, which he has worn throughout his career.

He has chosen this number to honor the late Matthew Shepard, who was brutally tortured and murdered for his sexual orientation in 1998.

Since the announcement, he has been praised by the likes of Kobe Bryant, recently retired NBA commissioner David Stern, and even Barack Obama.

On March 3, Collins signed a second 10-day contract with the team. Even though it is not currently known whether the Nets will retain Collins for the remainder of the season, the signing is still a move in the right direction and a success for equality in sports.

Another openly gay athlete has the chance of joining a major American sport before the year’s end.

On Feb. 9, Missouri Tigers football graduate Michael Sam came out as gay.  He had met with Collins a few days prior to his announcement to discuss it with him.

If the reigning Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year is drafted this coming May, he will become the first openly gay NFL player.  Sam is currently projected to be picked within the mid-to-late rounds of the draft.

Out of the major American sports, the NFL in particular has had a reputation of having intolerant, sometimes racist teams.

Recent incidents, such as the case of Richie Incognito bullying Jonathan Martin, show that some teams may not be ready to have a gay player in their immature and bigoted locker rooms.

In another incident, longtime Minnesota Vikings punter and gay rights advocate Chris Kluwe was released by his team in May 2013, allegedly for his public support of same-sex marriage.

Players such as New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas and current free agent linebacker Jonathan Vilma have expressed concern with having a homosexual player as a teammate, citing that it would be uncomfortable seeing him in the locker room.

The fact is that an athlete’s sexual orientation should not matter.  What should matter is the player’s talent and his ability to contribute to a team.

Sports are one of the only areas in our society where homophobia is prevalent, and hopefully these announcements by Collins and Sam could pave the way for our future, just as Robinson did for his.

These principles also apply to Schreiber sports.

“I honestly believe that Schreiber sports embrace anyone that will be a great teammate or leader and help the team win,” said Athletic Director Ms. Stephanie Joannon.  “Sexual orientation, ethnicity, economic status, academic prowess do not deter from the mission of fair and competitive play and sportsmanship.  Sports are the one place where individual differences come together for a common goal.  The one thing these signings can do is continue a conversation about tolerance and respect among teammates that can extend beyond the team and into the school day and real life.”