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The Cricket: Coming out – First the NBA, tomorrow Hollywood?

Published May 6, 2013 8:59 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Another barrier to equality fell this week, and the world didn't stop spinning.

This week Jason Collins, an NBA center with 12 years in the pros (and twin brother of former Utah Jazz player Jarron Collins), announced in the pages of Sports Illustrated that he is gay.

The news was historic. Collins is the first active player in a major men's professional American sports league to acknowledge his homosexuality. Part of its significance, though, is the number of qualifiers necessary in that previous sentence.

Retired pros have come out in the past, notably former Jazz player John Amaechi. So have women athletes, in individual sports (such as tennis legend Martina Navratilova) and team sports (such as soon-to-be WNBA rookie Brittney Griner). So have players in so-called "second-tier" sports (for example, U.S. soccer player Robbie Rogers, who announced in February that he was gay and that he was quitting the game).

The more dependent clauses one has to put in a "first so-and-so to do such-and-such" sentence, the more progress society makes as a whole.

Collins' announcement was met largely with praise and good feelings. There were a few exceptions, such as ESPN beat reporter Chris Broussard (who identifies himself as Christian) saying on-air that being gay is "walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ."

But the world continued to spin, without hellfire and damnation striking us all. Just as it didn't strike when President Barack Obama repealed the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. And it didn't strike in the nine U.S. states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal.

One reaction to Collins' announcement was that some people went looking for other fields where the closets should be flung open. Maria Puente, writing on USAToday.com, suggested movie stars should be the next group to step forward.

It's arguably a tougher challenge for actors, because a star's persona is part of his or her appeal in performance. Actors get it in their heads that audiences will question the authenticity of a character, say, seducing Jennifer Lawrence if they know the actor would rather be kissing Bradley Cooper.

By the way, nobody complains when a straight actor plays a gay character. No, those actors get awards, such as when Tom Hanks won an Oscar for "Philadelphia."

The landscape is changing, though, at least for TV actors. For example, nobody questions whether Neil Patrick Harris can convincingly play the womanizing Barney on TV's "How I Met Your Mother." Harris came out in 2006, and that news made barely a ripple.

It will take courage for a major A-list actor — not some aging British character actor, but a full-fledged action star who can open a $200 million movie — to announce that he's gay. But it will happen sooner or later. When it does, there will be some focused media attention, and the world will continue to spin.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.