The Importance of Allowing People to Say That You Can't Be a Gay Basketball Player and a Christian
You have probably heard the news that mediocre but long-lasting NBA backup center Jason Collins today became the first active professional men's team sports player to come out as gay. Read his Sports Illustrated essay if you haven't.
Since then, commentary from his fellow basketball players, from politicians (including President Barack Obama), and from journalists has been overwhelmingly positive (just click on Deadspin and scroll down). One of the few exceptions has been ESPN commentator Chris Broussard, who said:
If you're openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits. It says that, you know, that's a sin. If you're openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, whatever it may be, I believe that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don't think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian.
Broussard is predictably getting beaten to a rhetoric pulp on Twitter. And while I think today is a wonderful, watershed day for people (especially the artist formerly known as Ron Artest) to live as open and free as they wanna be, I agree with the New York Post editorial Robert George here:
Chris Broussard spoke what more than a few players feel. If such comments aren't expressed, a real conversation can't be had.
One of the fascinating and valuable thing about Jackie Robinson's 1964 book about baseball desegregation and civil rights, which I wrote about two weeks ago, was that baseball's pioneer gave space in his oral history for whites who didn't agree with the federal civil rights push that Robinson was fighting for. Here, for example, is shortstop-turned redass manager Alvin Dark:
I feel that too many people are trying to solve the Southerners' problems before they solve their own problems in the North. In Chicago, in New York and other cities where they're having racial problems—if these problems were solved by the Northerners or people from the West who come down South, if they would take care of their own problems first and let the Southerners work it out I know they would work it out, because there are a lot of people in the South that feel that everyone's a human being, a son of God, if they are Christians, all born equally. I feel that right now it's being handled a bit too fast. […] Being a Christian, I feel that this will be solved one day in the South. But they're rushing it a little bit too quick right now.
Now, there is no doubt that Jackie Robinson vehemently disagreed with this go-slow sentiment, but he also understood that you can't always persuade fence-sitters through a two-handed chest-shove.* And sometimes engaging with the I'm not ready to go that far just yet crowd brings out the best in activists. See, for example, Martin Luther King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail."
Jason Collins in his essay from today talked about how former NBA great Tim Hardaway had come around from being a rhetorical gay-basher to a strong supporter of gay rights. The country is changing fast, and while many of us are yelling faster!, it's important to recognize that a lot of people feel uncomfortable about it all. Better to have that conversation out loud, than let it fester.
* Interestingly, the same year Robinson's book was published, Alvin Dark was widely accused of being racist after criticizing his largely minority San Francisco Giants team for making "dumb" plays. According to this article published by the Society for American Baseball Research, the alleged racist had an important black friend:
Jackie Robinson quickly rushed to Dark's defense. The two had been friends since their playing days, and Robinson told the New York Times that he had "known Dark for many years, and my relationships with him have always been exceptional. I have found him to be a gentleman, and above all, unbiased. Our relationship has not only been on the baseball field but off it. We played golf together."