THE GOLDEN VOICE WITH CHRIS LOWRY
Radio Voice of Howard County Sports
Dictionary.com defines the word “hero” as “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.”
When it comes to sports, the word “hero” is probably used way too often. We tend to admire and praise our standout athletes a bit too much for what boils down to a game. Granted, it can be an exhilarating, pulse-pounding, adrenaline-rushing game. But in the end it is still just a game. Our athletic “heroes” certainly can have distinguished ability and are admired for their brawny deeds. One might even be able to make a case for their courage and noble qualities. However, if you compare Andrew Luck with a returning soldier who just had his legs amputated, the hero comparison for the athlete looks as silly as a fifth grade flutophone class equating themselves to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
I get the same feeling when I hear people comparing Jason Collins to Jackie Robinson. There is no comparison. Jason Collins is no hero.
Here is what happened after Jason Collins announced that he is the first active male gay athlete in a major U.S. sport: He was nearly universally praised; he took a congratulatory phone call from the President of the United States; Kobe Bryant Tweeted his support; Billy Jean King said she had “been praying” for a moment like this; the Boston Red Sox said Collins could throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park anytime he wanted; Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Reverend Al Sharpton all praised Collins, with Sharpton going as far as to title his article on the NBA center “Jason Collins is a hero;” and ESPN couldn’t stop gushing over the 7-foot center.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that was the hero’s welcome that awaited Jackie Robinson when he first put on the Dodger blue. But for whatever reason, media pundits across the country are using the Robinson–Collins comparison. Robinson had to be brave because his life was in danger. Collins’ announcement felt like the Fourth of July, complete with fireworks and celebration and music playing in the background.
Another part of this script that is baffling to me is that Jason Collins is not technically an active, gay NBA player. Collins is a 13-year veteran who is a free agent after a season where he averaged 1.1 points and 1.6 rebounds per game. Those are not the kind of numbers that scream out, “SIGN ME!” His twin brother Jarron hasn’t played in the Association since he retired in 2011. There is a very good chance that Jason Collins won’t be in the NBA next season because his athletic career is clearly on its downside. In fact, the only way Collins might be playing professionally next year is BECAUSE he announced he’s gay. I wouldn’t be surprised if a team with poor attendance may think a Jason Collins signing is just what they need to attract a few more fans and get a little positive media attention. If Jason Collins does not sign with a team next season, it will probably be blamed on homophobic locker rooms and not on his declining skills. If Collins’ career is over, he is no different than John Amaechi. Amaechi was a five-year NBA player who announced in 2007, after retirement, that he was gay. So unless Collins plays this year – which is no guarantee – he is simply another Amaechi, albeit with legions of admirers in the highest positions throughout the country. If anyone got discriminated against, maybe it was Amaechi and not Collins. Amaechi never fielded a call from the President nor was he ever thrust onto the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Jackie Robinson is a hero in the truest since. So are our soldiers. And then there are athletic heroes. Jon Lester, who has battled back from cancer to dominate the majors. Curt Schilling, who valiantly pitched with an ankle spewing blood. Michael Jordan, who despite being sick drained one of the most iconic shots of his career in an NBA Finals win over the Jazz. Willis Reed, limping onto the court to the delirium of Madison Square Garden. Kurt Gibson hobbling around the bases after a longball against Eckersley. Jim Abbott, who despite not having a right hand, had a distinguished major league pitching career. And Byron Leftwich being carried by his teammates down the field so he could take another snap.
So please, don’t equate Collins with a real hero or even an athletic hero. To do so cheapens the accomplishments of both groups.
(Chris Lowry is the radio voice of the Kokomo Wildkats and Howard County athletics on AM 1350 WIOU. He contributes a monthly column to the Sports Journal.)