In response to NBA veteran Jason Collins’ decision to come out publicly on Monday, I reached out to several local athletes and coaches to get their opinions on his decision. About three years ago, I wrote a story on former Hen Hud star tennis and softball player Rachel Buckner, who went through her high school years as an openly gay athlete. She offered unique perspective, as did several others, about how they would react to a gay teammate and how they view Collins’ announcement as a positive step toward acceptance.
Well before NBA veteran Jason Collins came out as openly gay on Monday, Hen Hud grad Rachel Buckner had the courage to do so. The former tennis and softball star did her part to stand up for tolerance and acceptance on a much smaller scale while in high school, and she offered some unique perspective in light of Collins’ decision.
“I think that it’s an incredibly important step,” Buckner (pictured to the right) said. “It says a lot about the incredible pressure that these men are under; the masculinity that they have to hold for themselves. I think that’s a very important aspect about this man coming out today… The stranglehold that masculinity holds on male sports.”
With the simplest of sentences, Collins set aside years of worry and silence to become the first active player in one of the four major U.S. professional sports leagues to come out as gay.
In a first-person article posted Monday on Sports Illustrated’s website, Collins begins: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
Collins has played for six teams in 12 seasons, most recently as a reserve with the Washington Wizards after a midseason trade from the Boston Celtics. He is now a free agent and wants to keep playing in the NBA.
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different,’” Collins writes. “If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
The news of Collins coming out garnered reaction throughout the country, and many locals viewed it as a positive step towards equality.
“I think it was a brave thing he did, especially being an active player and possibly risking his career,” White Plains junior quarterback and right fielder Cameron Crabbe said. “I know at WPHS everyone is accepted regardless of their life preference, and I would have no problem with having a gay teammate.”
Valhalla boys soccer coach Sandro Prosperino spoke about teaching his players to support each other in every life situation, but he did express concern as to how opposing teams and fans would react to an openly gay player.
“I think just the culture of watching a sporting event has changed for the worst,” Prosperino said. “Whether it’s a professional game, college or high school, they feel like nothing is off limits. At basketball games, they try to rattle a kid at the free throw line, but at the end of the day, he’s just a kid.”
For Buckner, Collins coming out is more significant because of his gender, as she points out that openly gay female athletes have not received the same kind of attention.
“Men are targeted by other men to uphold these heterosexual values, and a lot of the time part of that comes with devaluing women,” Buckner said. “I think it’s interesting that in one week we could have a really important female athlete come out (WNBA No. 1 pick Brittney Griner) without much being said, and then the next have a male athlete and it’s all over the news.”
Buckner, who is currently a sophomore at Occidental College in Los Angeles, views Collins’ announcement as a critical step, but also considers it to be just the tip of the iceberg.
“This has to be the start of the conversation,” she said. “I think there’s probably going to be more men coming out with time, but again, it’s incredibly important to have these open elements of support from athletes and commentators.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report