Silence can be deafening.
The NBA was anything but passive when Jason Collins, a 12-year veteran of the league, admitted that he was gay in a heartfelt essay for Sports Illustrated. Support poured out over the airwaves and social-media sphere. It was overwhelming.
There were even those who openly opposed Collins' decision. They may not have garnered as much attention as Collins' advocates, but they were out there. They were speaking.
But what about the ones that said nothing?
Figureheads from just about every platform and social circle imaginable were impacted by what Collins disclosed and subsequently felt compelled to act or speak. But there were some noticeable absences, especially within the NBA sphere.
For anyone who falls under the closemouthed minority, it is their God-given right to say or not say whatever they want. It's also their right to believe this right isn't God-given. That's the world we live in. It's a free one. Our sovereignty is what makes America great.
But just as it is our right to express ourselves how we want, it's everyone else's right to interpret those actions or inactions as they see fit. If we say something the vast majority doesn't agree with, we'll know. If we take a stand for something they support, we'll also know. And should we choose to say nothing, to do nothing, they'll know.
The latter is worse than anything, especially for those of great influence in the public eye.
Reticence prohibits discussion; discussion champions evolution; evolution improves the quality of life. Therefore, silence discourages growth.
We, as a people, are not perfect. Not you, not I and not any athlete the general populous places upon a pedestal. We are still developing. Constantly. There remains a pressing need to grow as people. Maturation is not possible when doing nothing.
This isn't pointed speculation about what laconism may or may not mean with how it pertains to Collins. It's about what it does mean.
By not voicing an opinion, conversation is impeded, and silence promoted. And again, the absence of sound is not constructive. Something has to be said. Not necessarily by everyone, but most certainly by the most relevant and symbolic of personalities.
In this case, that's the NBA. It's LeBron. It's Kevin Durant. It's Kobe Bryant. They're obligated to speak because of where they sit within the league's hierarchy. They have to say something. And some of them did.
Bryant took to Twitter to stand behind Collins. LeBron was able to offer words of encouragement through the mainstream media, despite being immersed in a technological boycott of sorts, the result of him entering "playoff mode." And Durant provided a nice soliloquy on the dangers of judgment.
LeBron on Jason Collins: "I think it's a strong thing to do. I think it's very cool."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 30, 2013
Did they have to agree with the majority? Of course not. That's not what we're asking nor imploring. They just have to vocalize what they're thinking, whatever that may be. They have an obligation, as players, to speak, a mantra that LeBron himself has been riding for years.
In 2007, James spoke about the possibility of playing alongside closeted homosexuals, and he took a definitive stance. Not on the topic of sexual orientation, but on the notion of concealing it.
"With teammates, you have to be trustworthy," he told the Akron Beacon Journal (via Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated). "If you're gay and you're not admitting that you are, you're not trustworthy. It's the locker room code; it's a trust factor."
Six years later, LeBron is proof it works both ways. Those who haven't spoken are violating that trust factor James alluded to by not immediately reacting to what has happened.
Are we simply blowing this out of proportion?
Maybe, maybe not. We just don't know. That's the thing about being non-vocal. It's ambiguous and leaves those around you to distort what you may or may not believe. And knowing this, why not just speak?
Those who remain quiet shouldn't be forced to conform to the prevailing verdict that has been passed. That's not the point. Some of the most touted dignitaries in the field didn't commend Collins for what he did. They spoke out against him.
"I'm a Christian. I don't agree with homosexuality. I think it's a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. [ESPN's] L.Z. [Granderson] knows that. He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years. We've gone out, had lunch together, we've had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don't criticize him, he doesn't criticize me, and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant.
Broussard's beliefs don't coincide with the abundance of praise Collins was receiving, but they didn't have to. By speaking, he pushed the conversation deeper.
Jackson: "As a Christian man I have beliefs of what's right and what's wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family ...— Marcus Thompson (@gswscribe) April 29, 2013
Jackson: "...And certainly praying for them at this time."— Marcus Thompson (@gswscribe) April 29, 2013
Did Jackson and Broussard draw some backlash for how they handled this situation? Absolutely, but that's the case with everything. Was the platform Broussard used as a vessel to deliver his credence inappropriate? Debatable.
Broussard is entitled to say whatever he wants. That's his right to exercise. The podium he used was not ideal, but I personally didn't need the apology he issued. He said what he said, because he meant it. If ESPN took exception to what he said and did, that's between them.
To be clear, I personally don't agree with Broussard (or Jackson). Our government isn't a theocracy, and as we strive to evolve as a race, abiding by the stringent texts of the Bible isn't realistic. And quite frankly, it's not right.
But that's my opinion. No one has to like it. And we don't have to like Broussard's. But I won't condemn him for it. I can't.
It's my belief that discussion invokes progress. Conflicting viewpoints are difficult to digest, yet each side of an argument can serve a purpose. We take it in and it's debated. And those debates bring us closer to a resolution.
We all remember how much of an issue Magic Johnson's return to the floor was after being diagnosed with HIV. Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, now a Hall of Famer, challenged the belief that Magic was welcomed back with open arms.
"Look at this, scabs and cuts all over me," Malone said back in 1992 speaking about Magic's return (via Harvey Araton of the New York Times). "I get these every night, every game. They can't tell you that you're not at risk, and you can't tell me there's one guy in the N.B.A. who hasn't thought about it."
Malone was blunt. Brutal, even. But he was honest. And it spurred conversation, it prompted debate. Which is a good thing. A great thing.
"Some people are scared," explained Gerald Wilkins then of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1992 (via Araton). "This could be dangerous to us all, but you're dealing with Magic Johnson, so people are handling it with white gloves. They're not going to say how they really feel."
Silence is the real tragedy now, just like it was then. We should never be afraid or feel the need to cloak our emotions. They should be conveyed respectfully and without malice, but not oppressed. We're better than that. We were then, and we are now.
Those who are in a position to help advance the commentary surrounding Collins and the greater movement that his coming out represents cannot remain tongue-tied. This is too important an issue to be sidestepped.
Don't be reckless, but be honest. Be involved, not evasive.
Be willing to help better the world we live in.
Mindlessly agreeing won't do this. Blatant ignorance can't do this. And noiselessness won't, either. Everyone has the right to speak, but at different times, there are certain people that need to be heard.
Now is one of those times. Kobe knows this. LeBron knows this. Durant knows this. And the ones who have haven't uttered a word know this, too.
Recognizing that the NBA has reached a pivotal point in its cultivation is an obligation for those who directly shape the league's societal structure. One that beseeches cognizance and discussion, which in turn yields progress.
Progress is what has allowed the NBA, allowed our culture, to come as far as it has. It's why we will continue to evolve.
But it won't be achieved if any of those in power disarm its catalyst (discussion) by remaining submerged in what is a resounding silence.