The cliché about sport is that it defines manhood through a lens of machismo, no matter how many girls, women or men who don’t fit in a “turbo male” box excel on the playing fields, courts and swimming pools around the world. For some men, sport still contains a stage where we can display our virility and quantify how our masculinity ranks. After free agent NBA player Jason Collins shared with the world that he is gay, this construct shakes at its foundation. And maybe breaking it down once and for all is a way we can see more of sport’s true merits.
Collins has always been present but not overtly showy. As his former head coach, Lawrence Frank explains, “He always understood his role as a basketball player. He is the king of intangibles where nothing he does shows up on a stat sheet.” Besides leading the NBA one year in the “tough-guy” category of committing the most personal fouls (322), he has always been willing to put his body on the line. He has voluntarily taken charges, accepting his need to be collateral damage to play strong defense or set screens so that the shooter could get his shot off.
You would have to look deep into the stat sheet to find “screen-assists” or “charges taken.” And maybe the invisible ink you must scratch over to find him reflects his internal battle about coming out publicly. He has always been under the radar to those that set up fantasy drafts or those who choose who will be on the front of the media guide. Given that the default tone in a professional sports locker room revolves around the macho, he probably got plenty of messages that he could not be front and center. He could not be the scorer in this regard, so he had to set picks, take the hard road and the hard foul.
Well, Collins is done waiting and setting picks to divert the attention of the world. He wanted the world to know from him that he is a current professional athlete in one of the most popular sports in our country and that he is tired of being measured against the false idols of masculinity.
Sport should define something much bigger than manhood. It does in actuality, but we get lazy with its gifts when we limit them to gender, or race, and in turn we miss its greater value. Maybe with Collins coming out, he may have set his greatest pick so that we focus on what really matters.