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COLUMN

Is it really that 'brave' to be an openly gay pro athlete?

Civil-rights pioneers faced far worse threats than a debate over Scripture

Saturday, May 4, 2013 - 12:01 am

“Jason Collins proves that bravery takes many forms,” wrote the Washington Post's Sally Jenkins.”

“Jason Collins is brave,” agreed an editorial in New York's Newsday.

“Really brave,” raved fellow basketball player Kobe Bryant.

“This is a very brave man . . . So, so brave,” gushed TV talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres.

Get the picture? The first openly gay professional active athlete in one of America's “big four” sports is one brave guy. Even the man whose reaction to the news has been condemned as proof of a potential backlash says so.

“I believe (the Boston Celtics') Jason Collins displayed bravery with his announcement,” said ESPN's Chris Broussard, who earlier had shocked and angered many by suggesting that those who openly espouse or engage in homosexual behavior are among those “walking in open rebellion to God.”

Critics immediately demanded that Broussard be suspended or fired for his “gay bashing.” So far, ESPN has limited its reaction to mere “regret.”

All of which illustrates that, whatever the similarities, the snowballing gay-rights movement has much to learn before it can claim to be the worthy successor to the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and '60s. When someone whose views on the subject are already known is asked to comment then shouted down in the name of “tolerance,” you know the goal is to intimidate, not liberate.

Many orthodox Christians and members of other faiths will agree with Broussard's theology; others will support the liberal moveon.org's assertion that his “hateful attack on Jason Collins . . . was an unacceptable misrepresentation of the Christian faith.” But surely the irony of attempting to silence Broussard for his invocation of Scripture should not be lost on those who consider themselves latter-day Martin Luther King Jrs.

King, after all, was a Christian pastor who regularly justified civil rights on the basis of God's word – never more eloquently than at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963 when he paraphrased Isaiah: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

Not even King's detractors could demonstrate that he misrepresented the Christian faith. Unless Broussard's critics can do so, they will be left to explain how a movement that feels compelled to silence the Bible can claim kinship with a movement that in large part based drew its legitimacy from Scripture.

If the First Amendment means anything, it means that Americans are free to believe as they see fit, and to act on those beliefs within appropriate legal boundaries and, hopefully, with a degree of civility. That freedom allows the lunatics at Kansas' Westboro Baptist Church to go around the country claiming God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality, but it also protected opponents when they painted a gay-pride flag on the house across the street.

The alternative is to risk what happened in Canada earlier this year when its Supreme Court essentially ruled that those who quote biblical passages condemning homosexual behavior are committing “hate crimes.”

Few seem to have noticed that Broussard did not limit his comments to gays but also to heterosexuals who openly engage in sex outside of marriage. So in the spirit of the times, let me announce that I am heterosexual – and that it causes me to sin almost every day.

That confession hardly makes me as brave as Collins, who may in fact face a backlash in the macho world of pro sports. But being labeled a “sinner” is a hardly proof of courage, since the very act of being a Christian is to acknowledge the need for a savior.

Some gays have of course been targeted for violence, and that is no more acceptable than violence directed at members of any other group – including Christians. But no one seriously argues Collins' revelation endangers his very life.

The same could not be said, of course, about far too many civil-rights pioneers. King himself met a martyr's death, of course, but so did others whose names are less well known, including three young men named James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who went to openly hostile Mississippi in June 1964 to work for racial equality.

They were beaten, shot and buried by the Klan, with help of some local law enforcement officials.

That was true bravery, and it surely represents some sort of progress that Collins – whatever one thinks of this issue or the debate surrounding it – has no reason to expect a similar threat.

The Bible would condemn it, after all.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.