Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Brazile: But can the dude play?

By Donna Brazile, Special to CNN
May 1, 2013 -- Updated 1316 GMT (2116 HKT)
Donna Brazile says Jason Collins' coming out as the first openly gay player in the NBA busts stereotypes
Donna Brazile says Jason Collins' coming out as the first openly gay player in the NBA busts stereotypes
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile says her sports-fan dad would have been unconcerned about sexuality
  • He'd have said, "Yeah, but can the dude play?" Competence not same as sexuality, she says
  • She says orientation should be a yawn in a just world, but Collins' coming out hugely important
  • Brazile: Homophobia crumbling. First with don't ask, don't tell repeal, now in sports

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- My dad was an avid sports fan and a great athlete in his day. We used to watch basketball and football games together, and I know some of his proudest moments as a father were when I wore my sports uniforms in high school and college.

He was a man's man — a hard drinking, foul-mouthed veteran of the Korean War who came on to every voluptuous nurse who crossed his path. He passed away about this time last year.

I think about him often, and more during March Madness. I thought about him yesterday as I read about Jason Collins coming out as the first openly gay player in NBA history. I wondered, "If my dad were reading this, what would he say?"

And, clear as day, I heard his voice. "Yeah, but can the dude play?"

It made me laugh because isn't it just that simple? Can he play? Can he do his job?

At the same time that Jason Collins' announcement has caused a stir, there also has been noteworthy non-reaction among many. "Is this really still news?" we ask. The answer is yes. It is news because it's never happened before.

Pro sports, especially the ones where athletes get paid millions upon millions of dollars, are bastion of masculinity. Manhood, athleticism and heterosexuality are all woven together in our cultural paradigm. It's still news because the stereotype of gay men as being effete, weak, uncoordinated (except where it comes to Lady Gaga impersonations) and otherwise "girly" is still so strong.

In NBA, Collins' defense matters more than sexual orientation

It shouldn't be. Gay comes in all shapes, sizes, strengths and personalities. Just like straight does. It shouldn't be news that— guess what — some gay people don't fit your stereotype. But it is.

It shouldn't be news for that reason, but I'm grateful that it is news for an entirely different reason. Jason's coming out is a very, very public "it gets better" message to all the LGBTQ youth coming up, and out, right now. According to the Trevor Project, an organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds, and its the second leading cause of death on college campuses. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

This is why an openly gay NBA player should be news, because it busts stereotypes, normalizes homosexuality and gives kids of all orientations a positive role model of self-love and professional excellence.

Obama: 'Very proud' of Jason Collins
Does Collins coming out change the game?
Barkley: Jason Collins will open debate

Until there are no more hate crimes, no more vicious bullying and ugly slurs, whenever a person comes out — whether that person is a celebrity or a "nobody" — it should be celebrated like the triumph of courage it is. That is why it should be news. Jason Collins is tremendously brave and deserves to be celebrated as such.

All that said, we aback to the question my dad would have asked. "Yeah, but can the dude play?" Yes, he can play. He's an aggressive, big man who holds his space on the court. At 34, he's probably aging out of the sport, but he's played consistently and well over the years and deserves to be remembered for what he has done on the court, not what he did while off.

Opinion: Here's to Collins -- and the NBA

I applaud his career and his bravery, and I look forward to the day that sexual orientation is a non-issue. We are all so much more than our sexuality. It is vital to the situations in which it's important — namely, in looking for a mate — but it has nothing to do with job performance, whether your job is as a secretary or a professional basketball player. Our sexuality is just one of a thousand pieces of our identity, not the sole determining factor.

Jason Collins is gay. That's not all he is, and it would be nice if we could keep this one piece of identity in context with the whole.

Finally, it's nice to see institutionalized homophobia crumbling. First it was the military, with the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. For decades, the argument had been that having openly gay people in the military would impair unit cohesion. Setting aside all the flawed assumptions that undergird those fears, you know what has happened to unit cohesion since the fall of don't ask, don't tell? It's stayed the same or gotten slightly better. This is probably because it's easier for people to bond when they're not forbidden from being themselves.

First, it was the military, now it's pro sports being forced to realize that there is no "us" and "them" when it comes to sexuality. We are all on the same team. I'll bet that Jason Collins will be the first in a string of professional athletes to openly acknowledge their homosexuality. You can also think of him as the next in a chain of civil rights pioneers. And I'll bet you'll start seeing them play a bit better. We're all at our best when we don't have to hide who we are, when we can bring it all to the court.

I'm proud to see Jason come out and encouraged to see the overwhelmingly positive reaction he's received. And yet, I can't wait for the day we greet it with "so what?" and a yawn. I think my dad would agree.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT