Being A Man – Jason Collins and stereotypes

Last Tuesday, NBA player Jason Collins became the first active sportsmen in the four major US professional sports leagues (that’s basketball, baseball, football, and hockey) to come out as gay. Collins, who last season played for the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards is now a free agent, and told Sports Illustrated, ‘I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.’ While his announcement made international headline news, does turning these confessions into breaking news stories help or hurt the normalisation of homosexuality in the eyes of the wider public?

Parading someone’s sexuality through the trending topics on Twitter like a breaking news baton isn’t necessarily the best way of normalising something that in countries like the United States still divides a great number of people. But what Collins’ announcement does succeed in doing is making it okay – or more acceptable, anyway – in the eyes of many to be both a ‘man’ and a homosexual.

The stigma attached to (particularly) male athletes and ‘coming out’ stems from our continued societal idea of what it means to be a man. No matter how much we believe (or try to believe) in equal opportunities, not stereotyping, and progressiveness, a ‘man’ in popular culture is still branded as macho, strong, athletic, and irrefutably and totally attracted to one thing – women. And athletes, especially in the Big Four of American sports are, in the eyes of their fans and the media and the testosterone-laden sports shows, MEN. Capital M-E-N. And the idea that those MEN could be attracted to other men completely destroys the image of the suit-wearing, WAG-toting, all-‘man’ sportsman that has become the almost godlike image of athletes participating in the NBA, MLB, NFL, and NHL.

But the thing is, men who are homosexual are still men (surprise!), even if in many cases they’re not portrayed by the same stereotype that heterosexual men are. Homosexual men (shockingly) can still enjoy sport, or be athletic, or be strong, or be whatever we assume and label a man to be. And they are. Society, if it truly wants to claim progressiveness, has to get over one simple fact – there really isn’t a difference between a heterosexual and a homosexual, except who they’d rather be with. That sounds a bit basic, naturally, but we seem to have forgotten that along the way. Luckily, Collins, who is proud enough to open himself up to the inevitable adversity (and most likely a great deal of support), shows anyone who doubts exactly that – he is no different on the court than any of his teammates or opponents.

So, it will be nice when the Big Ten (newspapers, that is) stops clogging up news feeds and Twitter hashtags every time an athlete or a celebrity or anyone, in fact, decides to be themselves, because making a spectacle out of something so human isn’t the right way to go. But until then, Collins and others who are flying the flag for equality should be marked as a victory for the LGBT community – proving wrong all those who still think stereotyping is right.

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