But perhaps that ideal time never was, at least since 1947, when Jackie Robinson became the first black player to break into the segregated ranks of Major League Baseball.
As superb a player as Robinson was, that sports story had a greater social significance that everyone — even the worst racist — could recognize.
And now we have Jason Collins. He has come out and said he is gay. Reactions immediately flew around the country: Jason Collins? No! Really? Umm, who is Jason Collins? This last was my reaction.
It turns out that he is an NBA basketball player, recently with the Washington Wizards and formerly the Boston Celtics. Not so much a star but a minor asteroid in the rarefied skies of major pro sports, he’s now a free agent.
In not knowing Collins, I intend no disrespect to basketball as a sport. It is a fine game for tall people. My only objection is that the last two-minute stretch of every game continues for at least 10 minutes due to all the fouls and timeouts, just like every frustrating corporate meeting in America, only with fewer suits and more hanging off the baskets.
Although Collins is also black, his announced gayness doesn’t qualify this as a true Jackie Robinson moment. Back in the day, racism was bitter, visceral and everywhere.
Yet for all the attention being paid to the first active player coming out of the locker room closet, no sensible person today much cares what he does on his time off. So who cares?
That he was gay was apparently not obvious to all; he had to announce it to the world in Sports Illustrated in order for bigots to be offended. Robinson’s offense to roughly the same constituency was plain: He was plainly black.
This is progress of a sort. The significant story here may not be about what Collins said but more about the history-making yawn that greeted what he said among ordinary, sensible people.
Of course, it’s the extraordinarily insensible people we must worry about — and they won’t be frightened off by the sound of breaking stereotypes. In self-righteous precincts where “love thy neighbor” is translated as “judge your neighbor,” the low rumbling of outrage will continue.
Indeed, a goofy ESPN reporter gave voice to the chronically judgmental when he said Collins was “walking in open rebellion to God” by living a gay life.
Perhaps this is so, but my view is that the judging ought to be left to the Almighty, as He expressly instructed. Everybody else should mind their own business. Besides, taking theological advice from sports reporters — even one talking up Team Jesus — may not be the best idea. It is at least a sin against good taste.
But the reporter-turned-evangelist has done the nation a favor, because religion is the last real argument against acceptance of gays and lesbians as human beings with rights and feelings worthy of respect. This is especially so in the debate about gay marriage.
The sadness is that organized religion has a pretty sorry record on issues of human social progress. At one time or other, Scripture has been used to justify slavery, subjugation of women, even the resistance to more representative government. (Kiddies, can we say “divine right of kings”?) Now, in one last hurrah, the old moral cudgel is being raised against gay marriage.
Nobody is being forced to marry a gay person. As I have always said, if gay marriage is not for you, then don’t marry someone who is gay. However, let other people make their own choices, please. It’s only fair. How can anybody be truly free if they aren’t allowed to make the most fundamental choice in life — that of a loving, lifelong partner?
In a comically perverse way, being against gay marriage means as a practical matter being for promiscuous gay lifestyles. (What? Do you think they are going to be celibate if they can’t marry?)
As any longtime heterosexual couple can tell you, the fires of desire dim with age, not because love fades but because it’s a bother to get the dog off the bed. Dogs, oblivious to gender, are an equal-opportunity nuisance when it comes to love.
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court, some of the best minds of the 19th century, will soon pronounce on gay marriage. Alas, it’s far from a slam dunk in that crowd.
Jason Collins notwithstanding, that will be the moment to judge whether freedom is real for all or restricted to some.
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.