Jason Collins made headlines around the country in both traditional and social media when he penned a piece in Sports Illustrated revealing that he's gay. He is, in fact, the first openly gay male athlete in any of America's four major sports. It was a truly watershed moment.
Collins received an outpouring of support. Everyone from Bill Clinton to Steve Nash to Barry Sanders publicly congratulated him and commended his courage.
Not all reaction was effusively positive, however. The most notable detractor was longtime ESPN reporter Chris Broussard who, while speaking about the impact on the NBA landscape, said he believed Collins was "in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ."
Broussard's statement, while inflammatory, is a theological stance and needs to be judged as such. I don't have the knowledge to have an opinion on a theological statement and, frankly, it isn't something that interests me.
What I was more interested in was the immediate and visceral reaction against Broussard all over Twitter. In typical Twitter fashion, plenty of people weren't shy about letting Broussard know how they felt. Many called for his immediate firing.
But if you fire Broussard, you are doing a disservice to Collins. While it's great that Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash support Collins, we need more Chris Broussards and not less. Because this the beginning, not the end.
Why? Let's turn it back to Collins' groundbreaking piece for the answer.
His piece elegantly began with, "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." But it's what immediately followed that's perhaps the most important element in his piece.
"I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation."
Indeed, this is all about a conversation -- a conversation needed within and outside of professional sports.
If ESPN fires Broussard, it limits the conversation. Broussard's stance was not necessarily news, even though he used some strong language. Years ago, Broussard wrote similar sentiments when the retired John Amechi came out of the closet. And if you look at his entire appearance on OTL, he was certainly respectful toward both Collins and his debating partner, LZ Granderson, who is an openly gay ESPN writer and Broussard's friend.
While I strongly disagree with what Broussard wrote, I'd rather he say it out loud than keep it to himself. Because while I get frustrated when I hear people doubting a gay person's faith, or express discomfort about showering with a gay man, I'm even more frustrated when people don't think they can even have the conversation.
The gay people and gay rights supporters that I know are fully prepared to have that conversation -- respectfully, forcefully and passionately. They aren't afraid to deal head on with these issues, because gay rights are too important to dismiss anything. And in my experience, gay people crave agency just as much as they crave acceptance. They want to be heard. They believe that if everything were laid out on the table, the facts will win. Equality will win. Love will win.
If you don't give those that feel uncomfortable -- whether for religious or other reasons -- that same agency, if you don't let this situation breathe on both sides, you rob both sides of the ability to have these important conversations. And every conversation from this day forward, more than a tally of out gay athletes, will be the true measure of progress.
I proudly stand with Jason Collins, and I'm happy to support the many people who have announced their support and admiration for him. But even more important are the Chris Broussards of the world.
If we chill the climate for open dialogue, if we shout down people as soon as they react negatively to Collins' announcement, we do a disservice to marching progress forward. Come opening day of the 2013-14 NBA season, I hope both Jason Collins and Chris Broussard have a job in the NBA world.
As LZ Granderson said in his conversation with Broussard, "What we need now is patience and more conversation happening. ... The NBA now needs to have those uncomfortable conversations."
Collins said he was happy to start the conversation, and I'm more than happy to keep the conversation going. Let's talk. Let's listen.