Jason Collins shouldn’t have been the first (reprise)

When Jason Collins publicly announced that he was gay, I posted my feelings on my company’s website. Those feelings — since removed from the site — haven’t changed today, a day after Collins officially became the first openly gay athlete to compete in any of the four major professional sports.
When the post was first questioned and then pulled, I was hurt. But I think, selfishly, that hurt was based on my pride rather than in the knowledge that words supporting a group of people fighting for equal rights were ignored; silenced.
Nearly a year later, I realize that my company had the right to remove the post. That’s part of the freedom of speech we all cherish — the part that allows us to disagree with the beliefs of others.
But I’ve agonized over the post’s removal — knowing that my words might have helped a struggling young man or woman coming to terms with a sexuality that may not be accepted by family and friends. Living in one of the most conservative states in the country, I think that’s especially true. Saying homosexuality is frowned upon here is a mild understatement. I couldn’t imagine agonizing over whether to be true to myself or do what it takes to gain acceptance by my peers, my family and my community.
I’ve never had to hide my eye color or my height or my shoe size. Never had to lie about my hair color or any other part of my genetic being, let alone my sexuality.
Yet, instead of standing for what I believed, I sat quietly and gave more power to those opposing voices. Those oppressing voices.
I did nothing to advance civil rights. And by civil rights, I’m not just referring to the rights of people who are attracted to the same gender, I’m referring to the rights of all Americans.
Because unless every one of us has access to those inalienable rights we’re promised, none of us do.
I know this is long overdue, but given Collins’ return to the court for the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday following Michael Sam’s recent announcement — and the subsequent story of Eric Lueshen and his Nebraska football teammates — the timing couldn’t be more right.
So here’s what I had to say on April 30, 2013. Like I stated before, my feelings haven’t changed.
Let me preface this with an acknowledgment – an acknowledgment that my walk through life has been full of hiccups, falls, mistakes, poor decisions and epic failures.
But they’ve all made me stronger, and they’ve helped forge my relationship with God – a relationship that continues to evolve every second of every day.
And it’s because of that relationship that I’m completely dumbfounded by the contempt toward homosexuality.  Contempt is too mild a word.
It’s the hatred that dumbfounds me. The anger projected toward people whose day-to-day decisions have no bearing on the lives of those holding the projectors.
I stand behind Jason Collins’ decision to come out as the first openly gay athlete on the active roster of a major professional sports team. That’s who he is. There should be no reason to hide that.
And I, personally, see nothing wrong with a man (or woman) living in a committed, homosexual relationship.
Someone who is gay is no less gay than I am tall. It’s genetics, not a sin.
But that’s my faith. My faith.
By that, I simply mean that each of us owns our own faith. Our relationships with God, with Jesus, aren’t defined by the doctrine of a particular denomination or the beliefs of other men. They shouldn’t be.
And, just like anything else that is unique to a single person, we’re all going to disagree about interpretations, which is exactly what we’re reading in the modern Bible — interpretations of text written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
I’m not versed in any of those languages, and I figure the same can be said for most of us. We’ve relied on others to translate, interpret and modernize.
And we’ve concluded, right or wrong.
I believe the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was meant not to condemn homosexuality but to illustrate the perils of arrogance, lack of empathy, greed, apathy to the poor, etc.
Besides, casting judgment upon others for what I perceive to be a sinful lifestyle will do me no good as those who I’m judging won’t have to look too far to find my missteps.
But, seeing as how I’m not looking to start any sort of Biblical argument, I digress.
Sports, whether we like it or not, has always built bridges.
From Jackie Robinson to the post-911 New York Yankees, the simple act of swinging a baseball bat has gone a long way toward opening doors or healing scars.
Does that mean sports is always right?
Of course not.
But it has its moments.
And I believe that Collins’ decision is one of them.
But in a nation whose roots are as deep in escape from religious persecution as they are in the creation of fair taxation and equal opportunity, it’s sad that it has to be such a big deal.
And it should have happened long ago.
The United States – a melting pot – promises to be a beacon of light for people throughout the world who are looking to better their lives. Yet, within the confines of this nation, so many are unable to truly live their lives because of an attitude established in the mid-1800s that’s gained momentum ever since.
And that’s where the biggest problem is.
Civil rights should not be political. They should be accessible.
I should have no right beyond the right of another citizen, and that citizen should carry no more rights than I. It seems so simple.
So why isn’t it?
Ignorance? Fear?
Perhaps, but I truly don’t know. In the grand scheme, I know nothing.
But my presumption is that God, as our maker, has more of an understanding of human nature than any psychologist has had or will ever have. And my limited scope of psychological expertise tells me that nobody likes to have the beliefs of others thrown at them.
Nobody likes to be told what to do. The fact that we don’t have to is the basic beauty of our nation.
Aside from the obvious — you know, like murder — we are supposed to be free to do as we please. We are supposed to be free to love who we want to love or to work how we want to work.
To practice the faith we choose to practice.
And that’s not just our right as American citizens, it’s our God-given right as human beings.
And I believe our God-given duty as human beings isn’t to berate others’ behavior from the falsely claimed thrones we sit upon as Christians. Instead, I believe our God-given duty is to use the opportunities that present themselves to introduce others to a compassionate Christ.
To a man who taught his disciples to love their neighbors. A man who taught us that our actions toward the least of His brothers were actions aimed at Him.
I believe that history will remember Jason Collins as an integral part of the latest phase of the civil-rights movement. He’ll be remembered along with the likes of Jackie Robinson.
And sports will again have helped lay the foundation for an overdue societal change.