By Mikhail Bell (@Bellsworld)
On Monday, April 29, Washington Wizards center Jason Collins publicly announced that he was gay. Hours after Collins’ announcement, the career of ESPN writer Chris Broussard hung in the balance for remarks he made on Outside the Lines that were deemed a “distraction” by the network. Amid public praise for Jason Collins, Broussard, a Christian, spoiled the party with his principled commentary on the 34-year old NBA player’s announcement.
The revelation, Broussard said, was met with a “mixed bag of reactions [among NBA players and coaches], just like there is throughout America.”
In his Outside the Lines interview, the reporter said:
“I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is… In talking to some people around the league, there’s a lot Christians in the NBA and just because they disagree with that lifestyle, they don’t want to be called bigoted and intolerant and things like that.”
Jason Collins, who wears the number 98 to honor slain gay student Matthew Shepard, was formerly engaged to a player on Stanford’s women’s basketball team. Carolyn Moos, who later played in the WNBA, was as surprised as everyone else with the news about Collins. The two met during freshman year and their romance bloomed until he terminated the relationships for reasons that are now clear.
Something Old, Something New
Jason Collins’ announcement and Chris Broussard’s response are non-issues for two reasons. First, the term “first” is a bit deceptive. Second, Broussard has shared his views on homosexuality before.
While Collins is the first active athlete in a major American sport to come out, he is certainly not the only one or the first player in the U.S. or the world to do so. Officially, the term “major sports” refers to football, basketball or baseball, which is a very narrow qualification.
On February 2011, English cricket hero Steve Davies came out publicly while he was still representing his home nation. Davies, then 24, found it difficult to keep his sexual orientation a secret on tour with the national team.
In February of this year Robbie Rogers, an American soccer player for the British club Leeds United, came out and temporarily sidelined his professional ambitions. The promising young athlete, 25, has since begun training with Major League Soccer side L.A. Galaxy.
In March, former NFL player Kwame Harris, openly discussed his sexuality in a CNN Newsroom interview. This came after his court trial for assault noted an altercation with his then boyfriend over soy sauce and underwear.
To my second point, Chris Broussard has not wavered on his stance about homosexuality, which he calls a “lifestyle.” In a 2007 piece, the Oberlin College alum pushed back on Mark Cuban’s claim that John Amaechi, another gay NFL player, was “an American hero.” Consequently, his Outside the Lines comments are very much in line with previous statement.
According to L.Z. Granderson, an openly gay sports writer and friend of Chris Broussard, the significance of Jason Collins’ announcement is not about whether the 34-year-old free agent came out but whether he signs with another team:
“Right now he is an openly-gay player in the off-season, so everything we are talking about is still hypothetical. What we need… is for him to actually be signed, to have a team say we want him for his skill set… and [to say] we don’t care about his sexual orientation. That’s the move that is actually going to tell us progress.”
On April 30, 24 hours after the initial row, Broussard took to Twitter with clarifying remarks:
“Today on OTL [Outside the Lines], as part of a larger, wide-ranging discussion on today’s news, I offered my personal opinion as it relates to Christianity, a point of view that I have expressed publicly before. I realize that some people disagree with my opinion and I accept and respect that. As has been the case in the past, my beliefs have not and will not impact my ability to report on the NBA. I believe Jason Collins displayed bravery with his announcement today and I have no objection to him or anyone else playing in the NBA.”
The timing proximity of Collin’s coming out is noteworthy. In February, Supreme Court judges heard arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8, two decisions that could have massive ripple effects in Christendom and culture. During the same month, sports reporters were astounded when Phil Jackson stated that he had never known of any gay players in the NBA during his nearly 20-year coaching career. For the non-sports fans, Jackson coached the Chicago Bulls and the LA Lakers to an astounding 11 NBA championships.
Transparency under Fire?
This is not the first time a media personality has been fired for stating his opinion, even with carefully articulated qualifications.
In October 2010, former NPR reporter Juan Williams was shown the door after he appeared on the O’Reilly Factor – for the umpteenth time – after he honestly shared how 9/11 impacted his view of Muslims.
On Friday, I heard a 2011 interview with Parks and Recreation cast member Aziz Ansari from Time’s 10 Questions,” a recurring video series featuring winsome interviews with celebrities. Ansari, a rising star in comedy and an affable TV personality, illuminated why one of his favorite comedians is so popular among my generation. When asked about Chris Rock’s influence, the South Carolina native explained, “He hit the zeitgeist with those [HBO] specials… He really kind of said what everyone was thinking about a lot of different topics”
While Chris Rock should not be recommended listening for children, Broussard, like Rock before him, echoed the sentiments of traditional Christians and the clear language of scripture regarding how we ought use our bodies.
Comedy and sports punditry function in nearly identical manners. In either case you are elevated or expelled based on the perceived accuracy of your comments. The checks and balances are largely based on potential ridicule.
Why, when gravitas is introduced, do we snuff out a respected voice that disagrees? The unabashed intolerance of aspects of tolerance argument is an inconvenient truth indeed. Not only is Broussard paid to give his opinion, it is a right protected under the constitution and a privilege that we are blessed to have honored in our society.
The ESPN commentator did not use marginalizing language or slurs regarding sex orientation that regrettably crop up in some arguments for a biblical view of human sexuality. Instead he stated his conviction and stated it well.
Does the media response to Chris Broussard’s statements mean the death of free speech in America? No. However the incident is yet another example of how the “consensus” on certain issues regarding sexuality can silence legitimate dissenting opinions.
Despite the vicious attacks on his character, Broussard’s is still buoyed. As the Christian Post reported, he said, during a recent prayer call, “I believe God is getting all the glory from this and I’ve been resting on the scriptures, ‘blessed are you when you are persecuted for righteousness sake.’ So I know this is a blessing.”
Watch the full Outside the Lines interview. Share your thoughts below: