Cook: Personal fouls

Cook: Personal fouls

May 3rd, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

This week, the wide world of sports grew even wider. Jason Collins, a journeyman backup center for the Washington Wizards, officially came out of the closet, becoming the first openly gay professional male athlete playing in the four major team sports.

Male, mind you. Many pro female athletes are openly gay, most recently the WNBA's top draft pick Brittney Griner, who spoke freely about being a lesbian just days before Collins' announcement. Heard of her? Didn't think so.

(One of the most telling responses over Collins -- who once led the league in personal fouls -- came from the headline in the satirical newspaper The Onion: "Gay Teen Still Going to Buy Lebron James Jersey.")

Collins quickly was adored by the media, his teammates and even the president, who telephoned.

Good.

Yet Collins' news landed with a bit of a thud, like a hero appearing in a story without a proportionate villain.

He was the good guy without much of a bad one. (It's hard not to think about the film "42" and Jackie Robinson's trials in comparison). Had this been 1973 and the age of Archie Bunker instead of 2013 and the age of "Will and Grace," then Collins may be as heroic as the superlatives many are projecting onto him.

(Harvey Milk? A true hero.)

This, of course, is not Collins' fault. He followed his heart and the sports world is better because of him.

But why do we not say the same about Tim Tebow?

On the same day Collins came out, Tebow was cut out. The New York Jets dropped the Heisman-winning quarterback from their team, ending a relationship that went down about as smoothly as month-old milk.

Tebow, as most of America knows, is Christian first, football player second. He writes Bible verses on his eye black, prays publicly, spends time working in hospitals. For children. In the Third World.

He's like George Bailey with a football: doesn't drink or cuss, says he's a virgin waiting for marriage. The New York media pursued him like Sasquatch.

"They found nothing," Gerry Callahan wrote in the Boston Herald. "His worst transgression during his year in New York was running across the practice field shirtless."

Sure, he's no Joe Montana. He's not even Mark Sanchez. Yes, he can be a bit ... unapologetic. One too many Bible verses, perhaps.

But in a pro sports culture that routinely produces the likes of Dennis Rodman, Latrell Sprewell or half of Lane Kiffin's UT recruiting class, Tebow is about as offensive as bad breath. A bit of food in one's teeth.

He's not a God-Hates-Gays type of Christian. He just speaks his mind, softly, and stays true to himself, which is a pretty good estimation of Collins, too.

So why does most of America embrace Collins but not Tebow?

Perhaps this is religious blowback, the consequence of decades of anti-gay theology from far too many Christians. Tebow becomes the big dumping ground for so much built-up resentment against Christians.

Perhaps Christianity is the only safe zone left, the only subculture that can be mocked safely. If so, I don't really feel too bad about that. If that's the worst thing to happen, it's only a drop in the bucket compared to what so many marginalized others have endured. No one commits suicide in America because they are Christian. Gay kids do all the time. The majority rarely suffers in the same way as the minority.

Perhaps this has more to do with behavior. If Collins begins tattooing rainbow stickers on his arm or talking about gay issues as much as Tebow talks about religious ones, will we spit him out, too?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Me? I'm for the guy who lives his beliefs, stands up for truth as he sees it and chooses grit and courage over fear in order to do the right thing.

Which one? Tebow? Or Collins?

Yes.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.