After his eloquent announcement in Sports Illustrated where he identified himself as the first openly gay active male athlete in a professional American team sport, Collins is finally free to live his life in public the way he has lived in private for many years.
The burden for Collins may be easier now that he's not hiding his lifestyle from others, but that does not mean it will be easy. Collins made a choice this week—not on whether or not to be gay, but whether or not to tell the rest of the world he is gay—and that choice has made him an incredibly important part of the movement for gay rights in America.
For that, some call him a hero. Tim Brando of CBS Sports is not one of those people.
Calling it a night folks. The Dictionary matters to me and "HERO"can't be used loosely. That's my only point. Twitter took over afterwards.— Tim Brando (@TimBrando) April 29, 2013
Over and over again, the veteran radio and TV host tweeted and retweeted people making sure to call what Collins did admirable or brave, just not heroic. Brando made it clear that personal beliefs toward homosexuality will not allow him to consider Collins a hero.
As crass as the presentation of his point may have been, Brando's argument is actually understandable. Collins is not a hero to someone like Brando, who doesn't believe in the lifestyle Collins now openly lives. Brando is certainly entitled to that opinion, just like any of us are entitled to feel the same or otherwise.
The issue with Brando's rant—other than the sex-tape nonsense and other incendiary remarks—is that the dictionary "matters" to him, and he says Collins should not be considered a hero because the man doesn't fit the definition.
After his dictionary tweet, Brando retweeted a follower who suggested "Our soldiers, first responders, etc. THOSE are our heroes." That is true, but agreeing that first responders and soldiers are heroic should not exclude Collins from the group as well.
At the risk of turning this piece into a ninth-grade term paper, the dictionary defines hero thusly (via Dictionary.com):
noun, plural he·roes; for 5 also he·ros.
1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
3. the principal male character in a story, play, film, etc.
4. Classical Mythology .
a. a being of godlike prowess and beneficence who often came to be honored as a divinity.
b. (in the Homeric period) a warrior-chieftain of special strength, courage, or ability.
c. (in later antiquity) an immortal being; demigod.
5. hero sandwich.
Looking at these definitions from back to front, Collins is not, in fact, a sandwich. Brando would be right on that one.
Collins is not a mythological being of godlike prowess, nor is he a warrior (though, as a free agent, he could become a Warrior next year).
Collins is not an immortal being, despite the realization that his announcement will be remembered for a very long time.
Collins is not the principal character in a story or play. This is definitely real life.
While the final three definitions clearly don't fit for Collins, those first two definitions seem to make a lot of sense.
Collins is most certainly a person who—in the opinion of others—has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act. It may not be in Brando's opinion, but looking at the overall reaction to the announcement, it would be hard to argue that Collins' bravery and courage are not heroic in the opinion of others.
And then there's the first explanation of the word, the one that defines exactly who Collins is to millions of people around the world: a man of distinguished courage who is admired for his brave deeds.
If the dictionary truly matters to Brando, he should go ahead and read it once in a while.
To the greater point, a hero is someone who inspires other people to be better, and to work hard to make this world we live in better every day.
Our lives are, in the grand scheme of history, short, and if someone decides to put the enormous weight of something like this on his shoulders to help other people get through a confusing, frightening or otherwise difficult time in their lives, that's about as heroic as one can get.
Carrying a person out of a burning building or flying around the world to defend our freedom is incredibly heroic, but that kind of heroism should not exclude what Collins did as something other than heroic too.
The announcement by Collins, and how he has handled this decision with class and grace, will most definitely inspire more closeted athletes to come out and live life more openly.
We don't yet know if the next openly gay athletes will be in the NBA or NFL or one of the other American team sports—it may lead to more college or high school athletes to next come out—but there is no doubt that the decision by Collins was the first step in a long journey for equality and LGBT rights, not just in sports, but in our entire society.
We should strive for openness in our society, no matter what we believe. Fear lives in the shadows, and the more light we can shine on a topic—thanks to brave people like Collins—the better our world can become.
I understand this may be hard for some people who have been taught their whole lives that certain ways of life are sins or immoral based on their trusted set of beliefs. It's hard for people to just push aside their core beliefs because a theoretical lifestyle choice now has a face.
Remember, this isn't just his face.
Jason Collins isn't the first openly gay man in America, nor is he the first openly gay athlete. He's not the first openly gay team athlete or even the first openly gay male athlete. What Jason Collins is, today and forever, is the latest face in a long line of faces to make the decision that how they live their lives in private is nothing to be ashamed of in public.
Collins is a vital part of this struggle, but he isn't alone. His announcement has made sure the next athletes won't be alone either.
If that makes him a hero—like Robbie Rogers and Megan Rapinoe and Brittney Griner and John Amaechi and Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova and Greg Louganis and David Kopay and the many other athletes who came before Collins to announce they are gay—then a hero he is.
Heroes they all are, to some of us. At least, that's what my dictionary says.