When I was 13, my late father gave me "the talk." Sex, women, protection, babies, the whole uncomfortable gamut for an underdeveloped teenager. When he finished, he told me something I never forgot and still do not quite understand.
He said, "Son, I love you no matter what you choose to do. Just don't come home gay."
My father passed away in 2008, and I never really got clarity to why it mattered so much. Why does it matter that you can be an addict, a two-time loser, an underachiever, an adulterer, an abuser of women, etc., but being homosexual is this line of demarcation that simply can't be crossed?
Understand, my father was not political or intolerant. But I am not going to sit here and ask why I think it mattered so much. What I am going to try to do is connect those dots to what is seen as a momentous day in the sports world today.
Yes, as you all probably know by now, NBA journeyman Jason Collins announced that he was indeed gay while still an active player. Reactions can be found all over the place, but only a precious few have asked the question that truly matters: Why is this a big deal?
The simple answer is that it has not happened before. Except the NBA has had gay players before. The fundamental difference between April 29th, 2013 and April 15th, 1947 is that while it is possible to hide your sexual orientation, it is almost impossible to hide your skin color and/or race.
How important is Collins' announcement historically?
So in that sense, Jason Collins is no Jackie Robinson. But he is important. Because the last baseline barrier in American men's team sports has been removed. All today did was validate what all but the most myopic and naive already knew: The gay population exists in all forms of American society.
Going forward, does it matter if Collins proves to be a springboard for perhaps a more prominent athlete to come out? Only if America makes it that way. I am not saying that gays and lesbians should keep their sexuality muzzled. Nor would I ever.
What I am saying is that it is time for all of us, regardless of how we feel about the issue, to come to grips with the reality. No matter how much those on the anti-gay sentiment protest and condemn homosexuals, they are not going away. In that vein, it is similar to what African-Americans endured during the civil rights movement.
Speaking of African-Americans, the irony is not lost on me that many of the same people who helped fight for or at least lived through the bigotry and backlash of the civil rights movement are among the loudest against homosexuality. Maybe hypocrisy is a better word, since that is exactly what it is, no matter how it is sliced.
My father was a product of that duality. Someone who was alive (but too young) to know what the civil rights movement was about, but also one who had a huge problem with his child potentially being homosexual. Sadly, the past has been prologue in the way that certain African-Americans have transferred that ignorance and mistreatment forward towards another shunned American group.
How this country moves forward will largely dictate how much of a big deal this remains. In some ways, 2013 is not all that different from 1963 in that ignorance and vitriol still dominate some people's way of thinking. The difference is that many who do believe in a sense of inclusion, tolerance and acceptance, even if they don't agree with everything, are not silent either.
Ultimately, it will not be Collins who defines this day. It will be America's reaction (or lack thereof) to it. The most honest way someone truly accepts a situation is to just treat it as they do anything else they do during the day: As it affects them individually. Or better yet, start honest dialogue. Not the nonsensical chatter that ends with people talking at, instead of to, one another.
America has been given another chance to live out its creed. Let's all see how she does.