Sexuality and sports make for a complicated mix. Throw in race and the persistent obsession with what it means to be a man in America, and the conversation becomes impossibly loaded. That’s why it’s so significant for the NBA’s Jason Collins to come out. By telling his story—and doing so while he’s still an active player—the 34-year-old Washington Wizards alumn has created a moment in which racial justice and queer rights merge. By and large, LGBT athletes push to be known for their performance rather than their sexual identities. But Collins has taken the risk of declaring himself gay, black and proud. Even with the early, public support of Bill Clinton, Kobe Bryant, Doc Rivers and other icons of American masculinity, it’s important to note that what Collins did isn’t easy. It sounds a bit cliche at this point, but our popular culture is rife with none-too-subtle messages that tell us that anything that falls outside of “mainstream” (read: straight and white) masculinity should be subject to judgement, ridicule, policing and exclusion. This idea impacts our attitudes, laws and who actually gets to participate fully in society.
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