Coming Out In America: Some Thoughts on Jason Collins, Chris Broussard, and Brittney Griner

I wanted to blog about this topic last month during the week that current NBA player Jason Collins announced via Sports Illustrated that he is gay.  But I didn’t feel that I had the right angle and instead opted to wait for the right time to post.

To be honest, I still don’t feel like I have the right angle but it’s way past time to respond — so here goes.  My thoughts are varied and scattered and so I organized them topically:

On Jason Collins

One might have expected a greater amount of fanfare with this revelation.  But his announcement was met with more of a polite golf clap than a stadium of applause.  Perhaps it is because he hasn’t been a relevant player in the league since the early 00s.  And he was relevant then.  He was a stellar high school and college player and anchored the NBA’s Nets’ defense during their back-to-back Eastern Conference titles.  But that was then and this is now.  Maybe this is why ESPN’s Chris Broussard’s comments about homosexuality have caused more drama than Collins’ admission.  In one sense, Collins is an afterthought free agent who lacks the star power and the headlines that this would bring if it were, say, LeBron James coming out.

Or, perhaps, being gay in America is frankly not that big of a deal anymore. Compare Collins’ announcement to that of Ellen DeGeneres circa 1997.  I remember it well.  It was scandalous.  She was vilified publicly and privately.  It was hell on earth and hardened her in many respects to media attention.  To describe Collins as “brave” is in many respects to tarnish what Ellen D did.  If Ellen was brave, then what word do we use to describe Collins’ announcement?  Next? Standard? Perhaps.  But there are even mixed perspectives from within the LGBT community and I think it is safe to say that Collins is no Ellen.  And I don’t think he wants to be.  That is perhaps why he was so overwhelmed with the media attention.

Chris Broussard, Sports Apologetics?

Speaking of media attention, did you catch the ESPN Outside The Lines segment on Collins and Broussard’s commentary?  Broussard is considered to be an up-and-coming NBA expert reporter with close contacts in NBA circles   When asked how some players were responding, Broussard offered a Christian player’s reaction and then reinforced the Biblical position on homosexual behavior and whether someone can be a Christian who practices homosexual intercourse with regularity:

. . . if you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality — adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals — whatever it may be, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian.

Let me see if I can put Broussard’s commentary into context, while not trying to defend his approach.  Keep in mind that Broussard is colleagues with L.Z. Granderson, a brilliant young writer on sports and American culture who is openly gay.  Broussard was making public what he and Granderson have debated previously in private.  Broussard was not in attack mode, but seems to have been offering a Christian sports commentary in response to some of the statements that Collins made about his own Christian family values.  Collins said that he wanted “to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding.”  Collins also said:

I’m from a close-knit family. My parents instilled Christian values in me. They taught Sunday school, and I enjoyed lending a hand. I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding. On family trips, my parents made a point to expose us to new things, religious and cultural. In Utah, we visited the Mormon Salt Lake Temple. In Atlanta, the house of Martin Luther King Jr. That early exposure to otherness made me the guy who accepts everyone unconditionally.

I think Broussard was trying to call attention to what tolerance is and what it is not.  Tolerance is the kind of relationship that Granderson and Broussard have, one where the two disagree on positions but still remain friends.  Collins seems to be confused on at least two issues in Broussard’s mind at least.  First, he wrongly believes that tolerance is equivalent to acceptance.  Second, he presumes that Christianity is a religion that accepts everyone unconditionally.  Broussard was trying to correct the false notion that Jesus accepts people unconditionally.  Jesus welcomes people unconditionally, but does not accept them unconditionally.  What about “taking up a cross” communicates blind acceptance?  I think this is what Broussard was trying to accomplish.  Whether he accomplished this or not, or whether his approach was correct is another story . . .

Brittney Griner

I am not certain why no one seems to be making more of first round WNBA draft pick Brittney Griner (a Baylor graduate) who also announced to Sports Illustrated that she is a practicing lesbian.  This got by with nary a whiff of shock or scandal.  Sure ESPN grabbed the headline, but that was about that.  It was not even on par with Jason Collins and certainly not on par with Ellen.  Brittney’s own attitude was fairly nonchalant about it as well.

I think the bigger story about Brittney’s admission is the ways in which Baylor fans have responded.  Keep in mind that Baylor Lady Bear fans are mostly older, white, politically conservative, evangelical Christians.  Notice what Baylor University did not do.  They did not:

  • Make a public announcement reenforcing the university’s position that homosexual behavior is a sin.  And they could have. The Princeton Review ranked Baylor as one of the 10 least gay-friendly universities in the nation.
  • Make a public announcement rapidly changing the university’s position to affirm homosexual behavior, identity, and community as an alternative but accepted and embraced lifestyle path for success.
  • Attempt to nuance, defend, or justify their traditional position.

Instead? Baylor stayed silent.  They didn’t make a fuss one way or another.  What is this position called?  It is called tolerance.  The university holds to a firm position.  They loved and will continue to love Brittney.  They don’t publicly condemn or accept her lifestyle path.  They simply love, educate, provide a scholarship for, feed, encourage, provide growth opportunities, and send off a fine student athlete.  And they do so…wait for it…because of the Love of Christ.


About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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