He is an accomplished world-class athlete, Stanford-educated, a man of color, and he created a bit of a stir when he told the world that he was gay in the late spring, as his sport was ramping up for some world-class competition. Jason Collins, meet Josh Dixon.
Dixon made his announcement last May, while he was deep in training for the London Olympic trials. A seven-time All-American for the national power Cardinal, Dixon raised some eyebrows at the timing of his announcement, which, if he would have gone to London, would have made him the first openly gay male gymnast to compete in the Olympics.
But Dixon’s efforts fell just short of making Team USA for London, taking some of the personal pressure off him and also giving him time to reflect on what he calls a “huge relief” while focusing on what is next—the ultimate shot at qualifying for Rio 2016 for Team USA.
The announcement by Collins, who starred in hoops for Stanford before going on to a career in the NBA, brought back a lot of memories for Dixon, who is currently training in Colorado Springs for his next major event in July, while also competing in a new event, the Pro Gymnastics Challenge, May 11 and 12 at Lehigh University.
“When I heard the news this week it certainly was a reminder of what the process was for me last year, and what you have to do mentally to prepare for when you take this step as a person in a very public environment,” he said. “Given what I know now and what I have personally experienced in the last year I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.”
While Dixon said that there was some cynicism and an assumption by a few that many gymnasts are gay, the overall reaction by both friends and those in the athletic community was very positive, and it served as an interesting wake-up call for the sports world that male gymnasts are athletes first.
“The response from friends and many current and former teammates was very positive, and it certainly didn’t limit or define me as an athlete or change my desire to be an Olympian and represent the United States,” he added. “There is certainly a lot of soul searching that goes on for anyone who decides to make such a decision public, and I think for athletes it is just that much tougher because if the environment and a worry that people may view you differently, but in the end we get to perform at a very high level, and that really is what our goal is, or at least my goal is, and that didn’t change one bit. I still have my focus on being the best in the world, and that’s what I am driving for.”
Did it come as any surprise—or is it just a coincidence—that Collins is also an alum from Stanford?
“I don’t really think it does, but it does make a difference being in a community at Stanford that is probably more progressive and forward thinking than maybe other parts of the country,” he added. “You certainly are not looked down on for who you are, My friends and my colleagues welcomed me when I made the announcement and there was no real backlash at all.”
As far as what Collins will experience now that he is out, Dixon (who is half African-American, half Asian) was quick to admit that the NBA certainly presents different challenges than what he is going through as an elite gymnast, but there are probably some similarities.
“People have talked for some time about the first male athlete to come out in a major team sport and what he or she would face, and it was really a great statement of Jason’s character to do it,” he added. “If I had made the Olympic team there may have been more pressure or more scrutiny, but I do think now that come the next major world competition it wouldn’t, and probably shouldn’t be as big a deal.”
As far as what’s next for him, Dixon is hoping that next week’s event, which will have male and female gymnasts from around the world, including current, past and future Olympians and world champions, competing in a style that resembles HORSE in basketball, will be more of a game changer than his announcement was a year ago.
“The PGC is needed in gymnastics for many reasons, the biggest of which is that it will expose the great athleticism of our sport to a new audience away from an Olympic year,” he said. “It will help give the athletes more exposure and will be a great way for us to engage with fans at a time when many people who love Olympic gymnastics aren’t following it as much, it has the potential to really change things.”
Dixon, for one, knows all about change, both ones he has taken part in and ones that he recently witnessed this week with Stanford alum on a very big stage. Like his announcement last year, he hopes that the future for Jason Collins is as welcoming, positive and successful as what he has witnessed since his announcement, almost a year ago.
Jerry Milani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.