The big news earlier today was not that Jason Collins, veteran NBA center, had announced that he was gay in a gripping essay in Sports Illustrated. The big news was what happened next.
That's to say: Nothing. Well, something happened: Jason Collins became a lot more famous that he ever had been before, and a bunch of people like me told him how brave he was for taking a step that no other active male athlete in a major professional U.S. sport had before. He deserved every plaudit. It truly was brave. It is not an overstatement to say that he is a hero.
But there was no backlash. Like a lot of people, I combed through Twitter to look for any sort of negativity, and while there were a few cretins (Twitter being Twitter), I couldn't find a single "respectable" person doing anything other than being unequivocally supportive. The NBA basically pushed its playoffs coverage down its Website to splash out the news, Kobe Bryant tweeted that he was "proud" of Collins and even Bill Clinton weighed in positively. NBA players, across the board, came out on Collins' side, as if there is such a "side" to take in someone simply saying who he is.
And that was about it. By 1 p.m., ESPN was back to Tim Tebow, and everyone on Twitter was back to self-promotion again. It was fantastic.
This is not to say that Collins' announcement isn't big news. It is historic, a milestone, a major breakthrough in the world of sports, even if it's a little embarrassing that it took this long. I bet it will be nothing but a positive for him in his career, and the next time Collins steps on a basketball court -- and he will -- he will without question be cheered vociferously. And then everyone will go back to normal. He will play his nine minutes a game, and no one will notice any of the nine, just like they haven't at any other point in his NBA career.
This isn't just progress: This is the end goal. Two weeks ago, soon-to-be WNBA first-round pick Brittney Griner told a SI.com interviewer that she was gay. She didn't announce it; she didn't even proclaim it. She just said it, like it was nothing, because it was. She had been out to her friends and family the same way a straight person is out to his or her friends and family: She was just her, who she was, and there was no particular need for much fuss. Griner seemed a bit bewildered by the fuss following her interview. It wasn't a big deal for her; it was us who acted if there were something unusual or breakthrough.
Much of this is generational, all the way down. The older generation may have an issue with gays in sports. The current generation (and for this I'm going, oh, ages 25-65) has no issues with gays in sports but is old enough to know that there are ton of people who do consider it an issue. But the younger generation doesn't understand what the big goddamned deal is. This is Griner's generation. It was just a fact of life. People are weird about this? Who? Why? Eighty-one percent of people ages 18-29 are for gay marriage. You can't get that high percentage of people to agree that the earth revolves around the sun, and that humans did not hang out with dinosaurs. It is not an issue in the way that long shorts are not an issue, or tattoos are not an issue.
It feels like an issue to me because I remember Tim Hardaway's comments. Because I've been watching sports for 30 years without a single high-profile athlete saying he was gay. Because I remember what LeBron James said when John Amaechi came out. Because I've written about this issue before and remember how it was so recently. Because I remember my high school basketball coach calling everybody "fags" when they finished last in wind sprints and telling us the ideal free throw shooting motion ended with our right hand limp-wristed, "like a fairy."
It feels like a big deal to me because I'm old. But it's not a big deal to the people who actually play sports, and (more to the point) will be playing sports over the next forty years. Because sports culture does not belong to us old people who type and blather about them. They belong to the people who play them, and those people are young. And those people think we are all being stupid getting our britches in a wad about this business.
I'm so happy for Jason Collins, and the countless players who will not have to hide who they are in the future. This is a huge deal to him, and to me, and the NBA as it currently stands. If I saw him right now, I would stand and applaud.
But it'll seem downright silly in 10 years that something like this would even be necessary, that anyone would even care or notice. That, that's what's wonderful about Collins' announcement. This is American progress. This is how the world is supposed to work.