Guest Post: Why Jason Collins is a Hero

On April 29, Jason Collins came out as the first openly gay man playing US professional sports. In this guest post, John Armantrout, of Family Equality’s Board of Directors, reflects on Collins’ courage.

I read some commentary about Jason Collins in the last day or so. Though the majority seemed to be supportive, I was appalled and shocked by some of the blogs, messages and tweets concerning his coming out.

Some of what I read had people complaining about the word ‘hero’ being used to describe Jason. They said a ‘hero’ was someone who stormed the beaches of Normandy or flew missions over Germany, or Vietnam. Two of my uncles and my cousin did those very things, and yes, I do consider them heroes. But Jason Collins is a hero as well. 

The definition I found on the Internet of hero is somebody who “has courage and/or exhibits noble qualities.” And we certainly attribute that word to firefighters, policemen, members of the military, teachers, and others that influence our lives in dramatic ways. It is deserved for all of them. And yet articles about Jason Collins say he is no hero and that he diminishes the word when we use it to describe him.

I say we need to expand the use of the word. Our kids need heroes in their lives. I can’t imagine a world where there have been no heroes since the Normandy invasion. I say we need more heroes. Not fewer heroes.

Jason stood up knowing he would face a public onslaught. To me, that is standing up in a difficult situation and displaying courage and noble qualities. He was brave enough to say, “this is who I really am.” I can tell you, after living with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, it does take courage to break ranks, to stand up, to be free. That law itself made people question who they were and made them ‘less than’. I’m sure there was a similar, unspoken policy in the NBA.

Some have called Larry and me heroes for going into the foster care system in California and finding two diamonds in the rough – the most beautiful children you could ever imagine. Their birth families didn’t treat them well, but we’ve given them a loving home and a place to become who they were meant to be. There is nothing standing in their way now. And yet, we are not even recognized as a legitimate family by the government – and several of my Facebook friends, I might add. 

I have spent the last year and a couple months serving on the Board of Directors for the Family Equality Council. Our former Executive Director, Jenn Chrisler, was recently honored with an award at our dinner. Why? She is a hero, too. This group and all our supporters are heroes to me. They’re fighting to allow people to love kids, to take care of kids, to raise kids to be courageous and have noble qualities. That is the very definition of hero and that is why I love serving with this organization. There are 3 million gay and lesbian adults raising 6 million kids in this country and those voices will not be silenced. We love our kids, we care for our kids and they are growing, they are thriving.

And now we have Jason Collins – the man who stood up to these people who would seek to diminish him. He has come out and said, “This is who I am. I will no longer be hidden, I will no longer be silent, I will no longer live under a version of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ You will know who I am.” 

I have had teachers who are heroes, I’ve served for commanding officers in my 21-year Navy career who were heroes, I have known firemen and police officers who were heroes. And, my kids are also heroes – they display absolutely incredible courage in their lives – to even be here today – and they have such noble qualities. They are on a path to becoming who they were meant to be – just like Jason has been.

I ask you all to consider that the word hero does mean different things to different people. And I ask you to consider a broader definition for the word. Courage and noble qualities are things that we should all seek, that we should all strive to posses. What would the world be like if we were all courageous and had noble qualities? If we didn’t hide – and didn’t try to force others to hide? If we paid it forward and committed random acts of kindness – to help somebody that could not help themselves? These are noble qualities.

So, I’ll end by saying that Jason Collins is a hero in my book and by my definition. And nobody can take that away from him or from me. Thank you, Jason, for what you have done.