Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Real American Divide

Too often, the news stories we cover in the media focus on the many divides in America and around the world. Between the haves and have-nots, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, or political extremists and the rest of us, the reasons to be divided sometimes seem endless. So it's with pride that we watched much of America come together this week as NBA player Jason Collins publicly came out of the closet as gay.

That pride was simply described by one of our favorite writers, Dave Zirin of The Nation, who said that reading Collins' announcement "hit me like a triple-shot of espresso cut with a teaspoon of Adderall" - in a very good way.

That divide we spoke of did raise its ugly head though, through ignorance on social media outlets by people like NFL wide receiver Mike Wallace, and on the TV screens of millions by ESPN sportscaster Chris Broussard.

Of all the comments and actions that we see and write about every day which divide people around the world, the kind of ignorant bigotry displayed by those like Wallace and Broussard is one of the most destructive - and sadly, the most common.

For all the acceptance of LGBT individuals throughout America over the past few years, the top professional men's sports in America - football, baseball, basketball and hockey - have still had a rainbow wall dividing those who felt they could be honest about their sexuality, and those who've felt they had to lie about it.

As Greg Sargent deftly noted this week, Jason Collins vaulted over that barrier with his announcement - though to us Collins' announcement seems more like when Berliners began tearing down the wall that divided them.

Zirin, Sargent, and Collins himself noted that he never could have reached this point on his own. With the fall of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the near certain death of DOMA, the political winds in the U.S. have been very favorable for Collins' vault to freedom. Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones also pointed out that American women have already been tearing down the rainbow wall in the U.S. in pro sports - a fact we've proudly noted for many years now.

In some ways, the ultimate irony of the media frenzy surrounding Collins' announcement this week is that who he's attracted to sexually doesn't matter to us one bit. 

What does matter is that Collins' future now seems much more clear. We hope, as Amanda Terkel notes, that Collins finds his own 'Branch Rickey', just as Jackie Robinson did so many years ago. We hope Collins remains happy and healthy and keeps playing as long as his talent allows. We also hope the kind of ignorant bigotry Collins stood up to this week is finally beginning its own long and permanent retirement from all professional sports in America.

Ignorance and bigotry never make a group of people stronger, something that anyone who's ever played team sports - or been a part of any successful team - already knows. 

What unites us is stronger than what divides us. It's what makes the difference between the winners and the losers in the game of life.