Campus News Editor
February 23, 2014 is a day that will…most likely not be remembered. Why should it?
Nothing out of the ordinary happened. The Brooklyn Nets signed center Jason Collins to a 10-day contract and he played that night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
His stats were sub-par, racking up two rebounds, two turnovers and five personal fouls, but what can you expect from a center who hasn’t played all season? However, ESPN labeled this game “historic” and in some ways they are right.
On May 6, 2013, Collins became the first active professional sports player to come out and openly state that he is gay. But up until he played this past Sunday, there had been no openly gay athlete to play in any of the four major sports organizations (NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL).
Sure, it was a historic night as far as gay athletes are concerned, and yes there was some media coverage, but not as much as a Tim Tebow training session. All in all, NBA fans knew about Collins’ signing and that’s about it. There was no story on Good Morning America, no hashtags dedicated to this event and not even an article in USA Today.
The fact of the matter is, it shouldn’t be a big deal at all. No matter who we are, we are all humans and whether or not we like men or women, our sexual orientation shouldn’t be a factor in our athletic ability. If you can play the game then you should be able and allowed to play the game without being persecuted.
“It’s a shame that it’s even an issue,” stated Cathie Schweitzer, Springfield College’s athletic director. “It’s too bad that we even have to have this discussion, but I guess that has been history going through these non-discrimination battles.”
Looking back through history, discrimination and rights, especially in sports, has played a huge part in how the United States, and even the world, has come to be today. With iconic figures such as Jackie Robinson, sports have always been able to push the envelope when it comes to social change, except for when it comes to the sexual orientation battle. In that fight sports are dead last.
With athletes like Jason Collins and Michael Sam (a Missouri football player who came out earlier this year) bringing homosexuality to the limelight in pro sports, the effects will inevitably trickle down into the lower levels like Springfield College.
“With these athletes bringing this problem to the forefront, it causes athletic departments to look at their schools and say, ‘Hey! Do we have an issue here?’” explained Schweitzer, who has been the Pride’s AD for 14 years.
“It causes good discussion and awareness within the department and the student-ath
letes. Awareness is the No. 1 step, then education and eventually developing that culture where people, no matter who they are, feel safe in their environment.”
Let’s face it; accepting gay athletes is an obstacle that society has to get over. As a campus of student leaders Springfield College has yet to shy away from any sort of obstacle. It’s in our history.
Fifty years ago, we became one of the first campuses to permit women to play sports at the collegiate level. That is a landmark that any college should be proud of. However, it was not just our whole institution that made equal rights statements, but our alumni as well.
Tom Waddell, a Springfield College graduate of 1959, was the founder of the “Gay Olympic Games,” also known as the “Gay Games,” in 1982. After competing in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, Waddell was inspired. He believed that all athletes – gay, straight, black, white, male or female – should be able to participate in such a breathtaking event.
What Waddell was able to realize in 1968 is what our society should be able to realize in 2014. Athletes are athletes, plain and simple. That being said, Jason Collins playing last Sunday night should have made a larger commotion than it did, right?
Well actually, if you think about it, Jason Collins wasn’t the first gay athlete to play in any of the four major sports. There have been retired athletes that have come out long after their playing career was over and admitted to being in the “closet” while playing.
Yes, Jason Collins was the first openly gay player to compete and for that he should be commended; however, it would be naive of us to think that Collins was the first homosexual to ever compete in professional sports.
“There are closeted individuals on [sports] teams that people just do not know about,” commented Kiki Jacobs, the associate director of athletes at Springfield College.
Lack of knowledge is the exact root of all discrimination. If society didn’t know who was homosexual or heterosexual then this whole problem wouldn’t be an issue at all, right? But then, what is the point of telling people to express themselves if, as a society, we didn’t actually want to know? That is a step in the wrong direction.
Sports have always had the special ability to bring people together.
If you look at the fans in the stands after their teams have won, everyone is hugging, high fiving, etc., without a care in the world. Teammates stick together through thick or thin and form a brotherhood or sisterhood.
“Sports and athletes are here to not only teach people about X’s and O’s, but about life,” said Schweitzer, “and about getting along with one another through respect. It doesn’t matter if its color, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity, respect is everything.”