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 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT