You may or may not be a sports fan, but you are a Person On the Internet, so it’s pretty likely that you’ve heard at least something of the fact that yesterday, we were finally introduced to the first active, openly gay professional athlete in any of the U.S.’ four major men’s team sports when journeyman NBA center Jason Collins came out via a must-read Sports Illustrated article.
It’s such a great story, and so important in so many ways. No one’s sexuality should ever matter to anyone else with whom that first person is not currently shacking up, but the fact is that it does matter to a lot of people, and it matters a lot in the world of professional men’s sports, which until very recently has been (and in many ways probably still is) among our most backward, old-guard, dudes-just-bein’-dudes institutions. You take disciplines that by and large tend to draw from the religious and the less-than-totally-invested-in-education, you add in the closeness and camaraderie inherent in professional team sports and the communal locker rooms, and you’re going to get a lot of across-the-board, identity-repressing, literally homophobic (as in, actually afraid of any appearance of gayness) norms and unwritten rules and behavior. That’s not in any way to excuse it, that’s just how it’s been; as the rest of our society has moved, and moved quickly, toward acceptance of others regardless of sexual identity or orientation, men’s professional sports has lagged way, way, way behind. Since it’s also one of the leading sources (and perhaps the leading source) of role models for men and especially youth, this has been a pretty huge problem.
That’s started to change lately, partly because no one can be immune from societal pressures forever and partly because of great work by a few pro athletes, like football players Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo. But you can read a lot more about that today in a lot of other places. I’m interested in focusing on a particular reaction to the news, that of professional basketball player and crazy person Metta World Peace (MWP):
Whether this is a free country or not, you should be free to act and do what you want to do, you know, as long as it’s not violent. No matter what it is. I came here in a Cookie Monster shirt, you know, because I wanted to. I was gonna wear the pants, but I thought you guys would judge me. I was gonna wear the hat, too, but I figured you guys would judge me. And I don’t want Mitch [Kupchak, the Lakers’ GM] to judge me. That’s why I didn’t wear the hat and the pants.
Okay, so the first part suggests that maybe MWP thinks we live in something other than a free country, and I don’t think I’m on board with that, and there is a certain something about this “hey, anything goes” response that rubs me the wrong way, like being gay is just as crazy and out there (and as much of a personal choice) as wearing a full-on head-to-toe Cookie Monster uniform. That, I’m not okay with. Put those little nagging senses (and anything you might know about MWP’s history) aside for a second.
Because regardless, distilled down to the basic essence of it, I really fucking love this. I have tried and I have failed to think of a better metaphorical symbol for being openly oneself, for letting one’s freak flag fly, for doing as one feels moved to do so long as that’s respectful of others, and for respecting others’ own choices in doing the same than wearing one’s Cookie Monster Pants.
It’s absolutely perfect. Whoever you are, whatever you do for a living — even you writers living at home in your pajamas — there’s a pretty good chance that literally wearing Cookie Monster pants all day would at some point get you some funny looks, maybe be a bit uncomfortable. And so what? You’re not hurting anybody. If wearing Cookie Monster Pants is what you want to do, then by God, you should wear those damn pants.
I don’t need to spell it out for you here, do I? Because at some point I’m going to start sounding like a straight white guy who is telling you that the struggles of the LGBTQIA community and other minorities or disadvantaged groups are as trivial and easily solved as deciding whether to wear some goofy pants in public. That’s certainly not the point at all, of course, and what Jason Collins did yesterday took an incredible amount of courage, was nothing short of heroic. All I’m saying is that that’s the world I’d sure like to live in, where we’re all totally free to wear our Cookie Monster Pants with pride, whatever that may mean to us.
Trite and simplistic? Sure. Making way too much out of a throwaway quote from one maybe-actually-insane basketball player? Definitely. I don’t care. I love it. I don’t even know what that concept means for me personally, really, but I want to find out, and I want to wear those pants every damned day.