Most of America took note of Jason Collins’ revelation of his own homosexuality yesterday, done through a letter submitted to Sports Illustrated; indeed, given the prominence of organized athletics in the lives of many, and the recent strides taken towards greater equality for LGBT citizens, it seemed predestined to occupy the zeitgeist. I read about it at work, where I am isolated, partly by choice and partly by thick concrete, from access to social media, but I was relieved to read early indications online about support for Collins. My own reaction was positive; I am neither a basketball fan nor a gay man, but I believe it’s better for the world in general if everyone is allowed and encouraged to live life in the way that makes them happiest. If Jason Collins wants to a) play professional basketball and also b) bone down on dudes, dealing with hard picks on the field and hard pricks off, there’s no earthly reason that anyone should have cause to object.
Which is, I suppose, why Chris Broussard of ESPN came up with a heavenly one. "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.... If you're openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be ... that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ,” said Broussard.
What’s astonishing about this is the self-obsession. Broussard read (or had read to him; he calls himself a Christian and yet seemingly shows no understanding of the doctrines of love and forgiveness preached by Jeezo in said document, leading me to believe he may not actually be literate) Collins’ letter, with all its pathos and paid, its descriptions of how Collins life in the closet and denial of his true self had caused him hardship, how momentous he knew his coming out was and would be, and how much freer and happier he felt while taking those first steps, as he came out to family and friends, all of whom showed him overwhelming support, and what Broussard came away with was, “I don’t like or understand gay people.”
The majority has always contextualized minority experiences in terms of their own lives instead of actually listening to them. My favorite examples of this are Dances With Wolves and the spiritual sequel Dances With Wolves In Space, where what’s important is not the lived experience of the natives but their acceptance of the noble white guys who come to live among them. Broussard does the same thing here. Collins makes it quite clear that his being queer is part of who he is, yes, but that what’s of primary importance to him, what he takes the most pride in, is that he’s a professional basketball player, in every sense of the word. He even says, in the letter in question, “I celebrate being an African-American and the hardships of the past that still resonate today. But I don't let my race define me any more than I want my sexual orientation to. I don't want to be labeled, and I can't let someone else's label define me,” whereupon Broussard instantly attempted to label him. There is, yes, a reasonable expectation that Collins’ orientation is going to take center court for a little while, but what Collins said, in as clear and as eloquent terms as he possibly could, was that he was ‘also’ gay, not ‘only’ gay; the Broussard, and the Broussards of the world, Collins is now ‘only’ gay. Even if you take Broussard's comment as a comment primarily against premarital sex and not homosexuality there's still the matter of his narrow-minded view of homosexuals as slaves to their libidos, concerned only about sex (and if this is truly his concern, why is he taking issue only with Collins and not every other single player in the NBA? Answer: it's not truly his concern).
Broussard rightly faced a backlash for his remarks, and so issued the following non-apology today: “"Today on OTL, as part of a larger, wide-ranging discussion on today's news, I offered my personal opinion as it relates to Christianity, a point of view that I have expressed publicly before. I realize that some people disagree with my opinion and I accept and respect that. As has been the case in the past, my beliefs have not and will not impact my ability to report on the NBA. I believe Jason Collins displayed bravery with his announcement today and I have no objection to him or anyone else playing in the NBA." You have no objection? No shit.
Science fiction writer and clear thinker John Scalzi, recently wrote an article on his blog about public apologies which I think is pretty on-the-money, and Broussard’s mea sorta culpa fails most of the guidelines Scalzi sets forth. Its not even really an apology on its face; Broussard pretty much just says, “Yeah, I said I hate gays, you should know I hate gays because I’ve said that before. Don’t worry, though, he can still play ball if he wants and I see no problem with continuing to report on the NBA while not-secretly hating gays.” Scalzi: “An apology is directed toward other people, but is something you do for yourself. Which is to say, the reason to apologize is not because other people expect it from you (although they may), but because you expect it from yourself — it is part of your personal character to own up to the wrongs you have done to others.” Broussard clearly expects nothing from himself but the continued sense of smug moral self-satisfaction that he gets while sniping at those he considers lesser than him, and his apology reflects this.
Collins’ coming out was going to be hard, yes, but it was going to be hard because of men like Broussard, because those with privilege have lived their lives hearing without listening and spent their energy contextualizing the world in terms of their own petty fears and prejudices. The argument against homophobia, against racism, and against intolerance has always been to clearly see and hear the oppressed, to hear and be moved by their stories and their humanity, to humble yourself to the vastness of human experience and to step from the safety of your own beliefs, walking amongst the unfamiliar and embracing strangeness. I’m not calling on Broussard to resign, or be fired; I’m calling on him to open his eyes. Collins, through his letter, revealed himself to be a man of character, a brave man, worthy of respect. Broussard’s attempt to diminish Collins has only diminished himself, but that doesn’t have to be all of who he is; just as Collins is not ‘only’ gay, so to is Broussard not ‘only’ a bigot.
Give a real apology, Chris. Look outside yourself and join us out here in the world. It’s a brighter place.