NBA player Jason Collins came out as a gay man in a very public way today, with his story gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. Collins is the first current American professional athlete from the big 4 (football, baseball, basketball, and hockey) to come out while playing, making today a very historic day in American sports.
Interestingly, as recent as the late 1960’s homosexuality was viewed as a mental disorder in the DSM, the diagnosis manual used by mental health clinicians worldwide. Since then, the consensus in mental health has been to view homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle – but not a mental disorder. Accordingly, society has followed suit as increasingly more people are supporting and empowering gay people, as witnessed by national polls supporting gay marriage. Still, not everyone is on board with equal rights for homosexuals, and gay men in sports have been the one group to have remained in the closet because of machismo, stereotypical thinking. Even today, a day that should be celebrated, some athletes have already called into question Collins and his sexual orientation, suggesting that although much progress has been made we still have a long way to go. In fact, even ESPN personality Chris Broussard made news himself today with his less-than-supportive comments in the aftermath of the Collins admission.
Personally speaking, I have known and worked with many gay male athletes in the 20 something years in which I have studied sport psychology and counseled athletes. Admittedly, there once was a time where I could have never imagined a gay male athlete coming out, but in recent years – and perhaps to a small degree due to the growing number of female athletes who have shown coming out to be a very normal thing – I have been increasingly more optimistic about this day finally arriving.
Clinically speaking, I don’t believe people have a choice when it comes to their natural propensities pertaining to sexual pursuits. Sure, people can bury their true feelings and even act in ways that are completely disingenuous to who they really are (Collins himself was once engaged to a woman at an earlier time in his life), but at the end of the day we are who we are, whether we’re hetero- or homosexual. Being gay, to me, is no different than any other ascribed status, like height, or the color of your eyes or hair. I have come to this opinion based on one very important finding – in the many years I have counseling gay athletes not one single time has an athlete (male or female) talked about being gay as a “choice,” and instead in every single example these individuals have actually talked about their feelings for the same sex going back as far as they can remember. This is a very important psychological finding, folks, as you won’t find unanimous agreement or support in anything when it comes to social/behavioral research.
I realize some religious types will differ with my opinion on this, and that’s fine – I respect all opinions, even those different than my own. But keep in mind I don’t have a “dog in the race” when it comes to this discussion, and have only arrived at this opinion based on the countless gay athletes I have come to know over the years. Fortunately, the mental health world loosened their views on homosexuality “downgrading” it from a mental disorder to an alternative way of life, and the hope is religious types come to the same conclusion.
Living a false life (in this case attempting to live a straight life when you’re gay) really sets a person up for anxiety, depression, and a host of maladaptive coping mechanisms to deal with all the stress that comes with this choice. I believe the events of the last few years, highlighted by Jason Collins and his admission today, will soon pave a road filled with athletes of all different walks of life and sexual preferences — similar to what we see in life. And for those still not comfortable with this future landscape, don’t worry – being gay isn’t contagious, and you are no less of a person (and far from being a “sinner”) to simply accept another person’s sexual orientation that might be different from your own. At the end of the day we’re all people, deserving of basic human rights, dignity, and respect – regardless of who we choose as a partner.
collins, diversity, gay, homosexuality, jason, nba, pro, psychology, sport, sports, support