By Alan Pergament
The lead story of NBC’s "Today" this morning was on the decision of National Basketball Association player Jason Collins to become the first active professional athlete in the four major team sports to come out of the closet and say he is gay.
It also was the lead of Monday night’s "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley."
It is a huge story that on "Today" was referred to as "groundbreaking" and a "game changer."
The story also moved Channel 2 anchor Maryalice Demler to feel that she needed to deliver her two cents in a commentary.
I’ve been on record before saying Demler should stick to reading and reporting the news and stay away from commentaries that don’t say much. I recall one commentary in which she came out against bullying, something that everyone is against. What a tough stand.
In the immortal words of the late Howard Cosell, Demler has "the firm grasp of the obvious."
Channel 7 legend Irv Weinstein used to do commentaries occasionally, but to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen "Demler’s no Irv Weinstein."
To Demler’s credit, her heart seemed to be in the right place during Monday night’s minute-long commentary at 11 p.m., which once again addressed bullying and added that "our focus should be on our shared humanity." But she really didn’t say much of consequence and her remarks loaded with platitudes ignored how much attitudes about gays and gay rights have changed.
"It is ironic,"concluded Demler, "that the country that was founded for the purpose of religious and political tolerance finds itself some 237 years later still struggling about the concept of tolerating people who are different."
The minute could have been put to better use seeing the overwhelmingly positive response to Collins’ announcement rather than just hearing Demler’s co-anchor, Scott Levin, talking about it before she spoke.
Demler must not have heard Levin’s introduction. Because despite what Demler said in her commentary, everyone interviewed on newscasts nationwide Monday really didn’t seem to be struggling at all with the concept of tolerating people who are different.
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who infamously directed a gay slur at a referee a few years back, was among the NBA players who came out in support of Collins. President Obama and Chelsea Clinton – a Stanford classmate of Collins’ – and NBA Commissioner David Stern also were among those sending messages of support.
ESPN analyst Chris Broussard, who used his religious beliefs and the Bible Monday to condemn homosexuality and premarital sex as sins, was vilified on social networks. There were even calls for him to be fired for giving an opinion that ESPN officials knew about and essentially asked him to give. I understand the firing calls (ESPN sort of apologized late Monday night) but Broussard is entitled to his views. Besides, he will be punished enough by the ridicule he undoubtedly will have to deal with after essentially calling the great majority of straight NBA players in history sinners.
Broussard was just illustrating something that Demler ignored -- that certain religious elements are often behind much of the remaining intolerance directed toward homosexuals and also are behind the politicizing of the major controversies of our times.
Collins’ decision to come out was accurately labeled "courageous." CBS’ Pelley had "NFL Today" host James Brown address whether it was as big as Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball.
I wasn’t born when Robinson broke the color line in 1947 but I became a big Brooklyn Dodger fan in the early 1950s when he was still playing. I was one of many young kids in the New York City area who tried to duplicate his unique swing. From my parents, I know the circumstances were more difficult for Robinson than they would seem to be for Collins. Robinson was making history before the Civil Rights movement and when very few players were supportive of allowing African-Americans in the major leagues.
Collins made his groundbreaking decision decades after gay rights have been called the new Civil Rights issue and when players and fans – especially younger fans -- have become more accepting, states are approving same-sex marriage and the United States Supreme Court is considering the legality of same-sex marriage.
Two of America’s major TV personalities – Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper – have come out and seen their careers flourish. I remember when it was a big deal when a local TV personality came out. Recently, a couple of local media members have come out and nobody seems to care or think it is a
I’m not minimizing what Collins has done. It is extremely courageous. But he acknowledged the changing times have made it easier to come out.
TNT’s NBA analyst Charles Barkley has reportedly said that he thinks players who come out may have more difficulties with fan reaction than from fellow players.
I love Sir Charles. But I doubt he is right on that one.
There is a scene in the current movie about Jackie Robinson, "42," in which a bigoted fan verbally attacks Robinson during a game while the fan's son next to him gets an ugly lesson in bigotry.
You don’t see any other fan tell the bigot to shut up. If a NBA fan were to do the same thing to Collins next season if and when the free agent signs with a new team, I’d like to think someone nearby hearing the ugliness wouldn’t tolerate it, would tell the bigot off and demand he shut up. I’d actually be shocked if that didn’t happen today.