WASHINGTON (BP) — An NBA player Monday (April 29) made history by becoming the first player from a major American team sport to declare he’s gay, although the news coverage quickly switched to a debate involving Christian doctrine following comments from an ESPN commentator.
No player from the four major American team professional sports — football, basketball, baseball and hockey — had ever declared his homosexuality until 7-foot center Jason Collins, who began the season with the Boston Celtics but ended it with the Washington Wizards, announced in a Sports Illustrated article that he is gay.
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport,” he is quoted as saying on the cover of Sports Illustrated. “But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”
The magazine’s cover included a picture of Collins with the words: “The Gay Athlete.”
Collins has been in the league for 12 years — a long time for a pro athlete — with a career average of 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds. He started nine games out of the more than 80 his team played this year and has been a backup center in recent years, so there’s no guarantee a team will pick him up next season. Nevertheless, his announcement was significant.
Media coverage of the event changed when ESPN commentators LZ Granderson — who is gay — and Chris Broussard began discussing their beliefs about the issue during a broadcast of “Outside the Lines.” Both men are friends.
“Chris and I have known each other for a long time, and we’ve had this conversation many, many times,” Granderson said. “We’re both happy to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. But we have the conversation respectfully.”
Broussard then explained what Granderson meant.
“I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality,” Broussard said. “I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. LZ knows that. He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years. We’ve gone out, had lunch together, we’ve had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don’t criticize him, he doesn’t criticize me and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant.”
After Granderson said that he, too, considers himself to be a Christian, the host asked Broussard to comment on the fact that Collins — in the Sports Illustrated article — called himself a Christian.
“Personally,” Broussard responded, “I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly premarital sex between heterosexuals, if you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that’s a sin. If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be — not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be — I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian.”
That led Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo Sports to write a column criticizing Broussard.
“Gay young men and women have an impossibly tough time growing up and attempting to fit in, even as our culture shifts to become a more tolerant society,” Dwyer wrote. “The last thing they need is to see someone like Chris Broussard, who ESPN (and by extension, the NBA) trusts as its voice both at games and in-studio, to be referring to them as sinners who are in open rebellion to God.”
ESPN itself released a statement, saying, “We regret that a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction from today’s news. ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in his daily podcast “The Briefing” that Broussard only was reflecting historic Christianity.
“What he was articulating is the classic Christian position,” Mohler said. “Indeed, he’s exactly right in suggesting exactly what biblical Christianity understands to be the truth about homosexuality.”
Earlier in the broadcast, Broussard had said the people within the NBA he had spoken with had been “overwhelmingly supportive” of Collins.
“The climate in society is very set for this thing to happen,” he said. “… A lot of people feel like if you come out and say you don’t agree with homosexuality, you are viewed as a bigot, you’re viewed as intolerant. So the climate is right for somebody to come out and say they are gay.”
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).