And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain. \
1 Kings 18:41, King James Version
Recently, the United States had the first male player of a professional sports group publicly come out as gay. His name is Jason Collins–and he’s black! Given the high numbers of blacks in the NBA and the NFL, it would stand to reason that it would be a black player who would come out first. I’ve sat back and read his autobiographical essay that was submitted to “Sports Illustrated” and even read the background story as to how the reporter came to actually get the story from Collins and Collins’ agent. A day after the news story broke there was mostly support from all camps, the sports world, the general media talking heads and certainly major praise from the LGBT community.
Except for one blip:
And then there’s this:
Chris Broussard, for those who don’t know, is a regular commentator, sport-talking head and analyst with ESPN. In the world of sports, anyone who’s tuned into ESPN whenever there wasn’t a game going on knows that just like the cable news networks, it’s a bunch of people (mostly men) who sit around and yell at each other lobbing statistics and opinions back and forth with the speed and veraciousness of a tennis match between the Williams sisters. The people occupying the chairs make their money and get advertisement on just how cantankerous they can be to one another–just ask Skip Bayless.
What makes Broussard’s comments stand out isn’t so much the rabid dogmatic religious approach he decided to take, because he’s certainly not alone in that way of thinking, but the fact that he was alone in being the only one who really had much to say about Collins’ coming out. No one took it upon themselves to really say anything against Collins–except Broussard. Actually, most reactions ranged from effusive support to nonchalance. The blogs, tweets and articles I read tried to juxtapose the plethora of women that have publicly said they were gay who were in professional sports and how the nation didn’t stutter, miss a beat nor bat an eye for compared to a media-hungry society that stopped what they were doing to discuss Collins’ situation. But digging deeper, some even posited was this really a news story responding to Collins with a resounding “who cares?”
I took a somewhat similar approach when a Chris Bosh meme dropped “I SEE YOU JAMES!” with Bosh wearing a cowboy hat and his trademarked smirk that has garnered numerous Facebook, Twitter and Instagram jokes all about Bosh’s sexuality. But something is different about it than perhaps what would have been in years past. Bosh hasn’t come out and tried to assert his sexuality one way or the other, in fact he seems to be capitalizing on it purposely photobombing pictures as if to raise his public eye. By the same token, if the LGBT community is seeking equality across the board, then they should share in the equality of comedy on social networks as well. I circulated that meme because I thought it was funny–not because I thought it was true.
I honestly thought we’d hear more detractors who would publicly take the Chris Broussard approach; some others thought that suddenly we’d be hearing more players come out of the closet as well, specifically players from the NFL. These two aren’t unthinkable in the fabric of our American society. From the former, this is the country that had the likes of Pat Robertson saying that devil worshipping caused the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and Jerry Fallwell who laid the 9/11 attacks at the feet of the gay and lesbian population. Not to mention, a large swath of the black religious community that has come out publicly against President Obama and his endorsement of same-sex marriage equality. From the later, it was almost expected the way that Brendon Ayenbadejo, former Baltimore Ravens linebacker, began trotting the story about NFL players prepared to come out.
For me, Chris Broussard’s comments are the main reason why some players will never come out of the closet. A few may, but I don’t think we’re suddenly going to see an avalanche of players coming out. What I think hasn’t been said much in this dialogue is that there are decidedly two different factions of the LGBT community and they’re strongly divided on racial lines. Look at any major city’s annual gay parade and you’re going to see mostly vanilla to coffee with cream colored persons out there; there isn’t a large black presence. What I am suggesting is that blacks (maybe Latino’s, but I’m not really qualified to speak on them) aren’t a part of the highly politicized and policy angle of the LGBT cause for equal rights. Black gay and lesbians are not the ones who were the daughters and sons of rich and wealthy New England whites who were able to leave strong and monied legacies to them. The case of U.S. vs. Windsor is one drenched in money, categorically it is not the story of Kima Greggs or Snoop, let alone Omar, from “The Wire.”
Are there many planes on which the struggles are the same? I would say yes, as would most in an attempt to be liberal and sound like they’re trying to engage in equality, but at times it is very not much the same thing. Make no mistake, the opening line of Jason Collins’ essay was quite clear “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” It’s as if he needed to “come out” as black first, and attach it to his sexuality. Now I’m not asking a person to divorce themselves for the sake of a political cause or anything, but I wouldn’t imagine the likes of Tony Romo or Tim Tebow saying “I’m a 25 year old NFL
former quarterback. I’m white. And I’m gay.” What’s been devoid of this conversation is the fact that for someone like Collins, and the dozens of other black athletes out there, the two are inextricably connected and never to be separated at any costs.
To be a black male in America comes with certain sexual expectations. I’ll save you the book-long narratives about how the black male has been sexualized since we arrived here on the shores of North America at the onset of the Atlantic slave trade, but even in present there still is this sexuality that automatically gets attached to being a black male. When young black boys decide to show an interest in something other than sports, they’re seen as soft or not being a real man. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in public places and have seen grown adults chastising toddlers who can barely talk and making comments about “I’m teaching him to be a man” and it just breaks my heart. Culturally, the young black boys that decide to show an interest in the “non-masculine” things as deemed by those who are raising them have that added notion of not trying to “act white.”
When the HIV/AIDS crisis hit in the 1980s and straight up in through the 1990s, even with Magic Johnson publicly acknowledging that he was HIV+, it was still seen as a gay, white male, affliction. It was a direct suggestion that blacks didn’t get HIV/AIDS because blacks couldn’t be gay; that it made them less of a man. Even still larger society wasn’t focused on targeting other segments of the U.S. population as far as awareness. Actually, from a pop culture standpoint, it wasn’t until the late 1990s even early 2000s that we started seeing actual HIV/AIDS awareness enter into the black community, something pointed beyond just the boilerplate “wrap-it-up” commercials and campaigns.
Consciously, for me it was 2000 when my home church on the South Side of Chicago hosted a Youth Sexuality Project where they did the basic health 101 class — this is how to put on a condom, you can contract an STD this way, don’t believe it when he says the condom isn’t big enough [and the demonstrator placed the whole condom over his head and it didn’t break] — and that took a full 10 years almost after Magic Johnson announced his status.
And this happened in a church.
The people who act, think and talk like Chris Broussard are why some people may never come out as I said earlier. Broussard quoted biblical scriptures and had a response for everything that Charlamagne tha God had to say, and frankly, Broussard quoted it with ease as if he had this speech prepared–or maybe he just fundamentally believes everything he said. To engage in the same level of dogmatic religious douchebaggery, I would like to ask Broussard what about the passages in the New Testament where slaves are encouraged to obey their masters and wives to submit to their husbands or where Paul tells women to be silent in church. A fellow friend of mine quipped when I posted the first clip on Facebook that “where would people hide their bigotry if it weren’t for the Bible.”
There was a genuineness about Collins’ story. A true authentic nature that came through. I don’t think we’re going to see that happen. I don’t think there’s going to be those four players from the NFL that Ayanbadejo spoke about with Anderson Cooper who come out for the sake of the LGBT cause. No, what I do see is people possibly coming out to pump up their public persona. One of underlying threads in most articles I read about Collins was that he was an aging player who rode the bench most times and wasn’t much of an asset to the teams he was on and his career averages were at the bottom. This was to suggest that he only did this to raise his profile, and please believe that David Stern will not be seen as having him not picked up next year as the first openly gay player.
Personally, I don’t believe that’s why Collins came out–frankly I don’t know why he did, he didn’t have to do it all! Heterosexual couples don’t announce to the world “I’m a ______ (insert age and profession). I’m _____ (insert race/ethnicity). And I’m straight.” I’ll never know why he did it, we’ll never know why he really did it. What I think we’ll see is more young women and young men in high school and college coming out to their teammates. Those will be the stories that don’t make national news, if they even make the news in their local towns and counties. Those are the ones who won’t have the shelter of a national media spotlight that come from rural areas that tend to swing more conservative in ideals and values that may have to deal with the wrath of a community, a church and maybe even family.
What concerns me is that I hope we don’t see players and athletes who will come out for the sake of their own greater aggrandizement. If that’s the sound of the abundance of rain I thought I heard, that’s nothing more than a few misty sprinkles that will dry up before sun down.
Before I give my final example of one post-collegiate and professional sports player who came out, I do want to put it out there that what happened in the 2000s is the exact opposite of what the likes of J.L. King and his co-conspirator Oprah Winfrey wanted to happen: rather than demonize the “downlow” culture, they actually gave it some cache. As the public opinion of same-sex marriage shifted relatively overnight in the grand scheme of things, how this current culture views the boxes of sexuality obviously changed as well. Ethically and morally, it’s still the same with regards to relationship infidelity, but more and more people, women and men alike, aren’t holding fast to the stigma attached to persons who choose to be the same sex. Working on a college campus, I’ve had students–both female and male–bring to me their same-sex relationship problems or just mention it in passing with relative ease as though it is common. That is to conclude, we’re raising a generation and creating a society where if you’re a bit furtive about who you date and whom you choose to sleep with — that’s okay!
In my final thoughts, what I do think we as a nation will get tired of is the stories like that of Kevin Grayson. Now to be fair, this is not an ad hominem attack against him as a person, in fact based on the story he sounds like a cool guy I’d hang out with, but the challenge is what makes him so special? There are tons of gay people in the world who’ve face legitimate discrimination, who have been the victims of hate crimes and what not and where’s their special medal? Where’s the seven minute news story on them? For all of that I’m expecting Clarence Thomas to come out and say “My name is Clarence Thomas. I’m a Supreme Court Justice. And I’m black.”
Part of the nuanced struggle for true human equality is navigating the murky waters of what equates equality. Does the struggle for equality include the manicured and polished public relations approach where an agent calls a news program with an exclusive scoop? Or is it the case of the tons of celebrities that were caught with their pants down–literally–with a prostitute or lover of the same sex? To stay directly on topic, the news of NFL player Kerry Rhodes keeps staying in the rumor mill news because of him being seen with a guy named Russell “Hollywood” Simpson. Let’s make the jump that if Kerry Rhodes is indeed gay, is this another way of coming out? Is this a “normalized” way of doing versus calling the news crew and holding a press conference about it?
Although, as happy as I am for those that find the courage to come out, especially as it may give hope and courage to high schoolers and college student athletes, I’d be more interested in seeing black gay clergy come out. Call me when that happens, because that is definitely a news story!
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL