The alumni base at our school is chockfull of outstanding men and women, from promising politicians like Eric Garcetti ’88 to Oscar nominees like Jake Gyllenhaal ’98, Jason Reitman ’95 and Shirley Temple ’45, but three names stand out most to me — Sally Ride ’69, Dara Torres ’88 and now Jason Collins ’97.
Ride broke a gender barrier when she became the first American woman in space in 1983, Torres broke an age barrier when she won a silver Olympic medal at the age 41 and Collins broke a hetero-normative barrier last month when he became the first openly gay athlete to be active in a major American sport.
Three weeks before Collins’ monumental announcement, there were rumblings that as many as four NFL players were contemplating coming out of the closet as an organized group.
American soccer player Robbie Rogers came out publicly in February as he announced his retirement from professional soccer at the age of 25.
The long-established wall was close to breaking down.
Then Collins’ story, which he co-wrote with long-time friend and confidant Franz Lidz, broke on the Sports Illustrated website on April 29 in advance of the May 6 issue and major professional sports had its first openly gay active athlete.
The world had been waiting for someone like Collins to take one small step into the spotlight for a giant leap for mankind.
Rogers has since returned to the pitch after signing a deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy last week, saying he was a coward for retiring and wanted to be a role model.
The 34-year-old seven-footer, who had guarded a secret fundamental to his identity for decades, was willing to share private details of his life with the whole world in order to facilitate greater acceptance.
Collins recognized the inequality, he recognized that young gay athletes had nobody they could aspire to be like and he recognized that he could play an influential role in history.
It must have been terrifying, not knowing how the world would react to his monumental announcement.
There was a cartoon in the Los Angeles Times depicting Collins hugging Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in the MLB in 1947 and was subject to slander, violence and death threats as a result.
While the world today is much more tolerant than it was 66 years ago, Collins could not have known what backlash would occur.
He put himself out in the open because he felt it was the right thing to do, and fortunately, the response was nearly all positive.
Collins will be written about in history books as one of the leaders of the gay rights movement just as Robinson is for civil rights.
Time will tell the impact Collins’ coming out will have on the world, but what’s certain now is that Collins stands out among our school’s long list of outstanding alumni.