I thought today the sports media would have been exhausted after the 489 hours of NFL Draft coverage and Carmelo Anthony needing his right arm surgically repaired yesterday after the worst shooting performance in America since Newtown, but Monday provided some major historic milestones, if you are willing to stretch. First, the New York Times reported that jockey Kevin Kligger will be the first black jockey to race in the Kentucky Derby since 2000 and will have a chance to be the first African-American jockey to win the race since 1901! The 5’6″, 110 pound Kilgger, or as he is known to his friends as “Bigger Kevin Hart,” seemed like this week’s biggest piece of “let’s try to make a historical story out of sports” until Jason Collins came out of the Big and Tall Dressing Room closet and announced that he was gay.
Before moving on to Collins, there are some things I have to say about the Kligger matter (his name might still be a major problem (or taunting blessing) to many residents of Kentucky today). Shouldn’t history be something we care about at this point? To Kligger’s credit he says he does not care about being a role model or trailblazer, but his color should be irrelevant. Not because we have moved beyond race, but because we are largely moved beyond horse racing! The popularity of the sport is dwindling and no one gives a crap who is riding the horses. Now in the New York Times story there is some fascinating history about black jockeys at the turn of the 20th century, but I would rather read a book about that then the imaginary torch that Kligger is carrying.
But just when Kevin Kligger (seriously does his middle name start with K also? KKKligger might be the most racist thing I ahve ever seen if it is!) was getting his 15 minutes of fame, NBA scrub Jason Collins comes out as a gay athlete (while also announcing that he is black). Now I say scrub because he and his brother were pretty bad as far as NBA basketball players go. His twin brother Jarron, who is straight, but equally bad at hoops, responded with shock at the announcement, “Oh wow – well I hope that stuff that happened to the evil twins in GI Joe doesn’t happen to us.” (Seriously my resentment of the Collins twis stems from my years as a Jazz fan watching Jarron be terrible)
I think it took courage for Jason Collins to come out, though technically he is a free agent and his season is over, so if he is not signed by a team he technically is not an active athlete in one of the four major American sports leagues. But that is besides the point. What is happening is already a revising of Collins’ career. See unlike Jackie Robinson (the sports media has been calling for a “gay Jackie Robinson” over the last few months, hopefully not to produce an overly sentimental film called “69” in a few decades – sorry I really couldn’t help myself), Collins is not that good at his sport. He is less Jackie Robinson and more John “Wait, I thought he was just British” Amechi 2.0. But as I read captions and descriptions, Collins is now being described as a “tough, gritty defensive player,” “a “great teammate,” “known for shutting down Dwight Howard (huh?)” and “savvy veteran.” Are we in that big a hurry to validate this moment by making him better than he is? Doesn’t that de-value Collins’ moment, as well as the moment when a player we actually care about announces he is gay? Like when a player who averaged 6 points per game and is under contract comes out? That should be earth shaking compared to this announcement.
And let’s not ignore the benefits – ever since the announcement has been made Jason has been crushing Jarron in twitter followers (though Jarron quickly wrote something begging for more attention with the misleading title “I’m proud of my brother” or something like that. And endorsements are sure to follow. Is Ben Gay too obvious? How about Jason’s “Grindr” tough play of the game?
I know we are a cynical culture and I am a cynic, but I still recognize how tough it must be to be a skinny, black, near-midget riding a horse or being gay and bad at basketball. But let’s not make everything bigger than it is. The good news is that one day we will not care about all of this (but of course we will as long as sites like Deadspin can get web traffic from athlete dick pics). But I look forward to more groundbreaking announcements from NFL punters, 3rd base coaches in baseball and pretzel vendors in hockey. I am just impressed that Collins’ twin brother had no idea. You’d think at some point some girlfriend/boyfriend would have had a mix up and outed the whole thing! At least if life were a 1980s sitcom it would have happened.
But congrats to Kevin Kligger and especially Jason Collins – you are courageous and you are part of history, even if it is Snapple Facts level of history.