Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Brazile: But can the dude play?

By Donna Brazile, Special to CNN
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Wed May 1, 2013
Donna Brazile says Jason Collins' coming out as the first openly gay player in the NBA busts stereotypes
Donna Brazile says Jason Collins' coming out as the first openly gay player in the NBA busts stereotypes
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile says her sports-fan dad would have been unconcerned about sexuality
  • He'd have said, "Yeah, but can the dude play?" Competence not same as sexuality, she says
  • She says orientation should be a yawn in a just world, but Collins' coming out hugely important
  • Brazile: Homophobia crumbling. First with don't ask, don't tell repeal, now in sports

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- My dad was an avid sports fan and a great athlete in his day. We used to watch basketball and football games together, and I know some of his proudest moments as a father were when I wore my sports uniforms in high school and college.

He was a man's man — a hard drinking, foul-mouthed veteran of the Korean War who came on to every voluptuous nurse who crossed his path. He passed away about this time last year.

I think about him often, and more during March Madness. I thought about him yesterday as I read about Jason Collins coming out as the first openly gay player in NBA history. I wondered, "If my dad were reading this, what would he say?"

And, clear as day, I heard his voice. "Yeah, but can the dude play?"

It made me laugh because isn't it just that simple? Can he play? Can he do his job?

At the same time that Jason Collins' announcement has caused a stir, there also has been noteworthy non-reaction among many. "Is this really still news?" we ask. The answer is yes. It is news because it's never happened before.

Pro sports, especially the ones where athletes get paid millions upon millions of dollars, are bastion of masculinity. Manhood, athleticism and heterosexuality are all woven together in our cultural paradigm. It's still news because the stereotype of gay men as being effete, weak, uncoordinated (except where it comes to Lady Gaga impersonations) and otherwise "girly" is still so strong.

In NBA, Collins' defense matters more than sexual orientation

It shouldn't be. Gay comes in all shapes, sizes, strengths and personalities. Just like straight does. It shouldn't be news that— guess what — some gay people don't fit your stereotype. But it is.

It shouldn't be news for that reason, but I'm grateful that it is news for an entirely different reason. Jason's coming out is a very, very public "it gets better" message to all the LGBTQ youth coming up, and out, right now. According to the Trevor Project, an organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds, and its the second leading cause of death on college campuses. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

This is why an openly gay NBA player should be news, because it busts stereotypes, normalizes homosexuality and gives kids of all orientations a positive role model of self-love and professional excellence.

Obama: 'Very proud' of Jason Collins
Does Collins coming out change the game?
Barkley: Jason Collins will open debate

Until there are no more hate crimes, no more vicious bullying and ugly slurs, whenever a person comes out — whether that person is a celebrity or a "nobody" — it should be celebrated like the triumph of courage it is. That is why it should be news. Jason Collins is tremendously brave and deserves to be celebrated as such.

All that said, we aback to the question my dad would have asked. "Yeah, but can the dude play?" Yes, he can play. He's an aggressive, big man who holds his space on the court. At 34, he's probably aging out of the sport, but he's played consistently and well over the years and deserves to be remembered for what he has done on the court, not what he did while off.

Opinion: Here's to Collins -- and the NBA

I applaud his career and his bravery, and I look forward to the day that sexual orientation is a non-issue. We are all so much more than our sexuality. It is vital to the situations in which it's important — namely, in looking for a mate — but it has nothing to do with job performance, whether your job is as a secretary or a professional basketball player. Our sexuality is just one of a thousand pieces of our identity, not the sole determining factor.

Jason Collins is gay. That's not all he is, and it would be nice if we could keep this one piece of identity in context with the whole.

Finally, it's nice to see institutionalized homophobia crumbling. First it was the military, with the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. For decades, the argument had been that having openly gay people in the military would impair unit cohesion. Setting aside all the flawed assumptions that undergird those fears, you know what has happened to unit cohesion since the fall of don't ask, don't tell? It's stayed the same or gotten slightly better. This is probably because it's easier for people to bond when they're not forbidden from being themselves.

First, it was the military, now it's pro sports being forced to realize that there is no "us" and "them" when it comes to sexuality. We are all on the same team. I'll bet that Jason Collins will be the first in a string of professional athletes to openly acknowledge their homosexuality. You can also think of him as the next in a chain of civil rights pioneers. And I'll bet you'll start seeing them play a bit better. We're all at our best when we don't have to hide who we are, when we can bring it all to the court.

I'm proud to see Jason come out and encouraged to see the overwhelmingly positive reaction he's received. And yet, I can't wait for the day we greet it with "so what?" and a yawn. I think my dad would agree.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT