What's all the fuss about?
That was the reaction from some upon hearing that veteran NBA player Jason Collins was publicly announcing he is gay, making him the first active male player to come out in any of the four major professional sports leagues.
Indeed, the fuss question was asked on both ends of the spectrum -- those who wonder why anyone needs to know Collins' sexual orientation and those who wonder when such announcements will become so passe as to not be newsworthy anymore.
But Collins is the first, and as such, his public declaration is news, And very welcome news indeed.
Former President Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea is a friend and former Stanford classmate of Collins', explained what the fuss is all about very well.
"It is ... the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities. For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive."
The fact that Collins had to wait until he had played 12 years in the NBA before finally announcing what he has known all along, speaks volumes about the longtime culture of sports and how that is changing in 2013. Collins, in his Sports Illustrated essay. noted that straight athletes who have taken public stances as gay allies such as Brendan Ayanbedejo and Chris Kluwe in the NFL helped bring him to this juncture.
So did a supportive family. And it will be Collins who will clear the path for not only other male gay professional athletes currently in the closet but for college and high school athletes who hopefully won't have to wait until they are 34 to live their truth without fear.
"A man with a big heart, speaking a couple of small words, has helped change the course of sports," said Brian Kitts, co-founder of You Can Play, which is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. The group has partnered with the National Hockey League in its efforts. "Saying 'I'm gay' sets a new standard for honesty, openness and teamwork that will positively affect athletes and fans at every level of sports."
Certainly, that's what's happened with female athletes.
Earlier this month, the WNBA's top draft pick, Brittney Griner, also announced she was gay. But with many lesbian role models in professional women's sports, her statement was treated in a much more muted, matter-of-fact way.
That really should be the goal moving forward. Gay athletes should be viewed and treated like any athlete, judged solely by their performances, their talent and their character.