By State Representative, Leon D. Young
Two weeks ago, Major League Baseball observed the 66th anniversary of a most historic event, when Jackie Roosevelt Robinson broke the color barrier with Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
Little did Branch Rickey know what this seminal moment would mean not only to professional baseball but to the American landscape, as well?
After all, it was Branch Rickey, the Dodgers’ General Manager at the time, who was the man most responsible for bringing Robinson to the majors.
Rickey offered many, sometimes conflicting, reasons for his desire to integrate baseball. Initially, Richey maintained that he hired Robinson because of his desire to put the best possible team on the field.
Before multi-million dollar broadcasting contracts were the norm, teams relied almost exclusively on ticket sales to pay their expenses – spring training, travel, player salaries, stadium upkeep – and make a profit.
Attendance was always higher for winning teams, and Richey was not alone in believing that African-American players could improve his team.
This week another Black, professional athlete exhibited extraordinary courage by stepping into another murky abyss that still confounds this nation when he simply declared:
“I’m a 34-year-old N.B.A. center. I’m Black and I’m gay.” The trailblazer to whom I refer is Jason Collins. And, with that statement, Collins became the first openly gay male athlete who is still active in a major American team sport.
Until Now, Collins’s only public hint of his sexual orientation was a subtle one. He wore No. 98 for the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards, in honor of Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was killed in 1998.
According to Collins, “The number has great significance to the gay community.”
By and large, the reaction to Jason Collins’s announcement has been favorable. There has been an outpouring of support from teammates, league executives and major National Basketball Association stars, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade among them.
But, the real proof of the pudding will come when Collins becomes a free agent July 1 and attempts to pursue another contract. This might be a truer test for how N.B. A. teams deal with a gay athlete.
Both Robinson and Collins share a number of similar characteristics: intelligent, articulate and socially astute. And, like Robinson, Collins is the perfect individual, “to carry the flag [promoting sexual orientation] for other players and the nation as a whole.”