Before yesterday, the reality was that there had never been a person in major American professional sports to discuss their being gay. With the online release of Jason Collins’ forthcoming Sports Illustrated article, that shameful reality met its overdue demise. At 34, Collins is at the sunset of a largely unremarkable 12-year NBA career during which he’s never averaged more than 7 points per game, never been to an NBA final, and never been an all-star. He’s considered (and generously so) a defensive specialist who makes the most of being tall and having six times to hack an opponent before he fouls out of a game.
By contrast, at 34 years of age, Michael Jordan was winning his 6th NBA Championship, averaged more than 30 points per game for his career, was a perennial all-star, and was widely considered the greatest basketball player to have ever played. That’s debatable, but certainly possible.
By the time I turned 34, my athletic “career” consisted of being a three-sport athlete in high school, having lasted in college wrestling just long enough for Coach Cotton to tell me that practices began at 5:00 “am, not pm”. I was a small but very athletic kid who was never was more than just “pretty good” at any particular sport. And at 5’ 6”, I would have been lucky to score seven points in an NBA season, much less per game. (I was, however, voted county Coach of the Year, placing me firmly in the Pantheon of great wrestling coaches, according to my mother.)
According to the numbers, the three of us ain’t on the same page athletically. Not even in the same book. In fact, you’d need three separate books, and mine doesn’t even belong in the same library.
That said, I’d rather be more like Jason than like Mike.
I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to be an athlete the likes of Jordan or even Collins. I do, however, have an excellent idea of what “the guys’ locker room” is like; its codes of conduct, the sanctity of what’s said there, the hypermasculine posturing… I could at least, after a particularly putrid performance on the wrestling mat, come back into the locker room and talk bullshit about what I wanted to do with some girl who of course would have been oh-so-impressed to see me flailing around out there in my singlet. I could pretend to be better than I was at wrestling, but I didn’t have to pretend to like girls.