RIGHT OF CENTRE

     RIGHT OF CENTRE

     Recently, some far right Conservative Christian websites and pundits have been bashing NBA centre Jake Collins, who became the first openly gay athlete in a major North American sports league last month when he said the words “I’m an NBA Centre.  I’m black.  And I’m gay.”  Now bashing an openly gay man, especially a celebrity, is nothing new for this crowd, and from everything I’ve read about Collins, the 12 year NBA veteran and journeyman is a consummate professional and more than smart enough to expect that the second he stepped foot out of the closet he was going to be square in the crosshairs of such people.  And having spent countless hours in locker rooms at every level of his amateur and professional career, he’s heard the worst kind of things people can and will say about gays.

     But there’s a bit of a different breed of bashing I’ve seen creeping around the edges of the usual lunatic fringe.  Some pundits have compared Collins favourable treatment by the media at large to the coverage NFL quarterback Tim Tebow got in 2011, when he exploded onto the media’s radar as the apparent saviour of the Denver Broncos.  Tebow (drafted by Denver in the first round of the 2010 NFL entry draft) replaced Broncos starting quarterback Kyle Orton early in the season, made a habit out of winning seemingly lost games in the dying minutes (if not seconds) of regulation, and not only led Denver to their first AFC West title but also their first playoff victory in six years.  But his on-field success was only a part of the formula for Tebow’s instant notoriety.  Tebow made a very obvious display of his Christian faith at every opportunity, praying on field and often striking a biblical pose when a play went right (the pose became known as “Tebowing”).  Tebow’s mixture of faith and game success earned him plenty of fame, not all of it nice.  And therein lies the complaint of many of these pundits, that the media was deliberately unfair to Tebow because he was a proud Christian while they have essentially given Collins a free pass and labelled him a hero because he’s gay.

     Before I go any further, I have a confession to make; I know little about football and even less about the NFL.  But I was fascinated by the debate that raged around Tebow every Sunday and always checked in on a number of online threads, from political message boards to sports ones, that sprang up after every game.  And inevitably the conversation degenerated into name calling and malice, often sooner rather than later.  But the storm swirling around Tebow blew over as suddenly as it came; Denver was eliminated (quite easily) by the New England Patriots and Tebow hasn’t seen any NFL action since (he was traded to the New York Jets in the off-season and didn’t play a single game last season; the Jets have since cut Tebow and many observers think his next stop could be the CFL).  Tebow had successfully become a media afterthought until some of these “pundits” essentially nailed a cross to his back and claimed that he had been crucified by the media because of his faith while they praised a “pervert” like Jason Collins and painted him a hero (check out the following link for one such example http://cryandhowl.com/2013/04/30/contrast-jason-collins-and-tim-tebow/).

     It also deserves to be said that there are millions of honest, genuine Christians who have nothing against homosexuals or the LGBT community at large, and have often argued in favour of equality.  And it’s not them I’m aiming this little trip to the top of my soap box at.  But here’s a message to the Far Right Christian Conservatives who are wiping their feet on Jason Collins, and the rest of the LGBT community, while polishing Tebow’s memory at the same time-the Christian Right brand has taken a nasty beating the past few years, and you’ve invited each and every blow.

     Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to paint every Christian Conservative with the same brush either, but when your side of the argument remains silent while groups like the Westboro Baptist Church make plenty of noise at funerals, insulting the memories of soldiers and children and bombing victims, you’re going to get some bad press.  When you let the likes of Mike Huckabee go on national television after dozens of parents have lost their children in a massacre days before Christmas and imply that God allowed it to happen because you took prayer out of public schools, you’re going to upset some people.  When your organizations are the biggest supporters behind movements to deny gays and homosexuals equal rights, you’re going to get yourself crossed off some Christmas card lists.   And remind me, outside of the retirement of one Pope and the antics of the new one, what’s the biggest reason the Roman Catholic Church makes headlines these days?

     And here’s a quick memo fellas, attitudes towards homosexuality have seen a dramatic shift over the past fifteen to twenty years.  President Barrack Obama has openly supported equal marriage rights for gays and homosexuals since first being elected in 2008, Rhode Island became the tenth state in the United States to recognize same-sex marriage and in many other western (including Canada) and european countries, same-sex marriage has been a fact of life for years.  And speaking of the U.S., one of the slowest moving countries in the western world when it comes to human rights and recognizing equality, 58% of its citizens support equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.  That number swells to over 80% for people 30 years old and younger.  And it is often the Christian Right trying to fight this tide of change, stomping their feet and screaming that they’re the victims while hypocritically trying to insure that one group of human beings don’t have the same rights as everyone else.  That isn’t going to win you any new converts either.

     So at the end of the day, was Tebow handled unfairly because he dropped to one knee and saluted the Almighty every time he completed a pass (which actually wasn’t very often), essentially turning the football field into a church?  Maybe, but given the overbearing, bigoted actions of the Christian Right, he had it coming.  And don’t take yourself too seriously boys, the orgy of media love for Jason Collins has just about run its course; headlines about his public declaration of his homosexuality are already being replaced by ones about what really matters in professional sports; the playoffs, trade rumours and which coach is on the firing block next.  But the next time you plan on painting yourselves a victim, ask yourself this question; when was the last time someone in North America was driven to suicide because of bullying or was beaten up in the street or had their home vandalized all because they were Christian?  Then ask yourself how many times that happened because someone was gay.

Shayne Kempton

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