Jason Collins vs. the voice of locker-room ignorance

NBA player announces he's gay – Dolphins' Mike Wallace questions it

Twitter messages of support for Washington Wizards player Jason Collins largely outweighed the negative. The NBA player, it was revealed today, announced he¿s gay.

Thank goodness for new Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace's quick fingers.

"All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH,'' Wallace tweeted Monday.

Thank goodness he explained in 140 quickly-erased characters why it took until 2013 for the first active gay athlete to announce himself in a team sport.

"I'm not bashing anybody don't have anything against anyone I just don't understand it,'' he tweeted a few minutes later.

Thank goodness for this, because otherwise NBA center Jason Collins' announcement would have been met only with a deceptive avalanche of applause, from President Clinton to gay tennis legend Martina Navratilova to NBA commissioner David Stern to dozens of basketball peers.

The ignorant voice in the locker room should be heard on this day, too. It should have a headline. It is as much a part of this story as Collins' revelation, and it's a voice that needs to be stated, not silenced, and discussed, not judged.

The Dolphins issued a statement saying, "We have addressed the matter" with Wallace, and his, 'comments do not reflect the view of the Miami Dolphins." Save Dade, an organization dedicated to protecting gays against discrimination, said Wallace's "homophobic statement" was a "huge disappointment."

This firestorm over one Wallace tweet explains the real-life dilemma any gay athlete confronts in coming out. It took courage for Collins to declare his sexuality to the world on the Sports Illustrated cover. It took a 34-year-old man's maturity and a 12-year NBA veterans' perspective.

"If I had my way, someone else would have done this,'' Collins wrote in his Sports Illustrated story.

This was a good step, an important step for sports to stay up with the shifting society. But it's important to not over do this. It wasn't Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. It wasn't Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs in a tennis match as a loud statement against sexism.

This isn't even exactly the story it's advertised as today. Collins doesn't have a team. He's a 34-year-old free agent who played sparingly for two teams this season and might not be employed next season.

For this story to work, though, someone has to offer him contract. Some team at least has to bring him to camp next year. If he doesn't go through a pro season as an openly gay athlete, he's an athlete who came out as the door closed.

Sport has had those before with the likes of football's Esera Tualolo and basketball's John Amaechi. The Collins story now becomes one of how tolerant a team is not just to a gay athlete but to the accompanying noise around him.

That's a serious concern, as other story swirling around sports on Monday showed. Tim Tebow was released by the New York Jets. A real concern of any team with interest in Tebow would be the circus signing him would bring. Is his game worth that?

That's the issue around Collins now. He averaged 10 minutes with Boston and Washington this year. He hasn't averaged more than two points the past five seasons. Is his game worth the attention?

That doesn't detract from the importance of his story or the impact it will have for others. We're getting closer to the time when these stories don't resonate, when they are a personal story more than a societal one.

But the reaction, good and bad, to Collins' story shows we're not there yet. We're not that close, really.

"I'm proud to call Jason Collins my friend,'' President Clinton tweeted.

"You will sleep a lot better now – freedom is a sweet feeling indeed!" Navratilova tweeted.

"Never said anything was right or wrong I just said I don't understand. Deeply sorry for anyone that I offended,'' was Wallace's final tweet.

Those are the voices of Monday. Each one reflects the reaction to Monday. The ones supporting him are noteworthy. But Wallace's questioning tweet was important, too.

It was the voice of the locker room. It showed, for as far as the idea of the gay athlete has come, the distance the acceptance of it still has to go.

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