Photo by Kwaku Alston/For Sports Illustrated. Click here for the original article.
There were two big stories in the sporting world today. The first story was about NBA center Jason Collins, who became the first player in a major American team sport to be openly gay. In an article for Sport Illustrated, Collins writes:
“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.” “I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
Speaking to his spiritual grounding, Collins continues,
“I’m from a close-knit family. My parents instilled Christian values in me. They taught Sunday school, and I enjoyed lending a hand. I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding. On family trips, my parents made a point to expose us to new things, religious and cultural. In Utah, we visited the Mormon Salt Lake Temple. In Atlanta, the house of Martin Luther King Jr. That early exposure to otherness made me the guy who accepts everyone unconditionally. (1)”
Sounds to me like he would make a great United Methodist.
While many of the early, public, responses from players, coaches and owners in the NBA was positive, the conversation on the internet quickly turned to whether Collins, currently a 34 year old free agent, will actually get to play next year (2). It’s hard not to read the strong diversity of opinions on the matter in the context of differing views on what is ‘appropriate’ in the NBA. A lot of Most agreed that if Collins is picked up by a team, the announcement may have a different impact than if he is forced to retire early.
If he were deemed too old to play professional basketball for another year, I can think of one profession where Jason Collins would be considered young: as an ordained clergy person. How might The United Methodist Church respond if he were to experience God’s call to the ministry as a second career, joining so many others who have taken a winding path toward ordination?
I ask this hypothetical question because I was moved by the appropriateness of NBA Commissioner David Stern’s statement:
“…we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family. Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.”
Before we all suggest that it is easier to respond in such a way out in the secular world, let’s try not to forget how taboo this topic has been in the world of professional sports; a business not known for ignoring its bottom financial line. It might be a good move, and there is ample evidence that the league has been preparing to embrace a more tolerant direction, but at the end of the day, this was still a risk.
In United Methodist circles, we are often reminded that we have a Book of Discipline and that only the General Conference can speak for the denomination. But I wonder if God would want the imperfect, legislative work of a group that meets once every four year to stop our leaders from publicly speaking words of support to those who deserve them.
Despite some dubious decisions in his years as commissioner, let me suggest that in this case, progress might be found in borrowing heavily from David Stern. Who wouldn’t want to hear these words, adapted from his above, if they took such a stand in our church:
“…we have known this pastor since she joined our conference in 2013 and she has been exemplary member of the United Methodist family. She has been a widely respected leader and colleague throughout her career and we are proud she has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.”
Stern’s words are ones that are affirming and ubiquitous enough to capture a fair amount of diversity within them; something I believe most United Methodists can appreciate.
At the onset, I mentioned that there were two big stories in the sporting world today. NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who gained notoriety for his overt public prayer style, was released from the the NY Jets today after a very disappointing season. No comment.