The cartoon that was widely disseminated this week depicting Jackie Robinson hugging Jason Collins completely distorts the significance of Robinson’s legacy and Collins’ act.
We’re all aware of the social juggernaut that is the gay rights movement. Anyone who refuses to stand up (or come out) and support same-sex marriage, public funding for gender reassignment operations, punitive actions against the Boy Scouts and the inclusion of gay-friendly provisions in immigration legislation is a bigot. Just ask, well, everyone who has ever appeared on MSNBC or written a screed at Huffington Post.
But just because society is allegedly evolving to the point where everyone whose knuckles don’t scrape the ground think gender distinctions are irrelevant and Heather deserves two (or more) daddies, this does not mean that we can twist history to our liking. While it took some courage to admit to the world that he was sexually attracted to men, Jason Collins is no more or less a hero than Tim Tebow who took a few shots because he believed in God and wasn’t afraid to pray in public.
Jackie Robinson is another story altogether. Anyone who has seen the recent biopic “42” has some idea of what the great Dodger was forced to endure as the man who single-handedly integrated American’s national pastime. As a Philadelphian who was not fully aware of the treatment he received at the hands of our hometown club, I was horrified to hear the words that, in other times, were launched as easily and expertly as a flyball out of Shibe Park.
And of course, it wasn’t just words. Robinson was a social pariah among his own teammates, unable to ride on the same buses or lodge in the same hotels as his less-talented colleagues. Beyond the world of baseball, he would not have been able to walk down a southern street without having to worry about his personal safety. He was a black man at a time when the color of your skin put you at risk for harassment, or much worse. He couldn’t hide it, and no one really cared about the content of his character.
Regardless of how much we try and analogize his ordeal to that of Jason Collins, it doesn’t compute. While there is no question that being gay in professional sports is not an idyllic experience, it is hardly the purgatory that Jackie Robinson suffered every day of his major league life. This is particularly so in the 21st century where a guy like Tebow is more likely to be ridiculed for his genuflections than a sexually emancipated athlete who has the support of presidents and movie stars. I don’t remember anyone coming to the defense of Tebow when his prayers were obviously not being answered from on high. God is clearly not a Jets fan. I do, however, remember the late night crowd making fun of the Heisman winner.
No one would dare treat Collins with anything other than respect, even in the sweaty locker rooms which are the temple of his own faith. We have speech codes, explicit or implicit, that forbid us from using the word ‘gay’ in a pejorative manner. We have laws that forbid us from asking about a person’s sexual orientation, or firing a teacher-at a Catholic school no less-who is openly living with her ‘partner.’ This is a society that has become increasingly gay-friendly, and while that is a good thing from a compassionate perspective, it hardly supports the view that coming out on the gridiron or ice rink or basketball court is an act of courage.
But it plays into the narrative that we are forced to read, the one where only preferred minorities are courageous while others are either forgotten or ridiculed. If I were an African American watching the Collins affair, I’d be annoyed beyond belief at the suggestion that what my ancestors suffered was equal to the deprivation of ‘marriage equality.’
And they’re not the only ones. I’m personally outraged that the LGBT lobby is ready to sink immigration reform by its insistence on pushing for ‘same-sex’ visas for foreign born partners, fully aware that this will guarantee a veto on the whole bill from conservative legislators who are already gun shy about helping ‘illegals.’
There is nothing wrong with supporting human dignity. It is the basis for our secular democratic prayer “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But we do ourselves a great disservice when we try and equalize all struggles and histories simply because it fits our evolving sense of who we should be.
Jason Collins is, indeed, a brave man. But he’s no Jackie Robinson.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.