Donal Og Cusack became the first major athlete in Ireland to state he was gay. He was the goalkeeper for the Cork hurling team and has won three All Ireland medals.
History is too big for any man or woman so it's best not to worry about trying to shoulder it, make it or shape it. Do what you do. Be strong and be who you are. History will take care of itself.
Jason Collins became the first active NBA player to come out this week. I am glad. It is a small step for mankind but a huge step for sports. He will know himself better now and in the weeks to come he will come to know those around him better too.
The rest of his career can be the best years of his career. By putting himself out there and allowing himself to be judged he has allowed those around him to stand up for what they believe in. He has allowed other people to grow.
Most importantly he has gathered his strength and passed it onto the next generation of gay sportspeople in America. I love to imagine one kid walking onto a court or playground in New York, Chicago or LA feeling better about himself because of Jason Collins. That’s the gift that Jason Collins has passed on.
He’ll do what he does. He’ll be who he is. History is for other people to make or write.
I read about when Jackie Robertson stepped out for the Brooklyn Dodgers all those years ago he had no locker; they gave him a hook on the wall. He waited behind till his teammates had used the showers and the hot water before he went to get himself cleaned up after a match. The abuse came at him not just from the stands but from opposition dugouts.
Players at rival clubs voted to refuse to play the Dodgers and when they did play they played under threat of losing their jobs. They hurled abuse at Robinson and their pitchers hurled the ball at him. Crowd mikes at game had to be removed as radio listeners were picking up too much racial abuse while eating mom’s apple pie back home.
Then there were the death threats the hate mail and Jackie Robinson’s complete isolation within his own team.
Thankfully, Jackie Robinson didn’t break though. Soon the media stopped referring to his race at all. Every time he got knocked down he stood up again. Famously one day as Jackie was being drenched in hatred from the bleachers his teammate Pee Wee Reese walked over and wrapped an arm around him. You took Jackie Robinson on well then you were no friend of Pee Wee Reese.
I don’t know anything much about Pee Wee Reese but I know that Jackie Robinson’s story brought something out in him that he perhaps never knew was there.
That story reminds me of a period in my own career. A Sunday paper tried suddenly to make an issue of my sexuality. They were sniffing around with threats and innuendos. Discussing my private life with the rest of the Cork senior hurling team had never been an issue with me. I genuinely never thought it mattered. Now suddenly it mattered because somebody somewhere was making it matter.
There are little shards stuck in my brain. Somebody told me that my team mate Ben O’ Connor had been talking about me. I had to know what Ben had said. It turned out that Ben said “if there are thirty of us in this squad surely there’s one among us that is gay and if Ogie is gay I don’t give a fuck. It won’t change one bit what I think of him.”
We had a meeting in the dressing room after training one night. Our Captain, Sean Og O hAilpin laid out the story to the lads. “One of us is having a bit of trouble with the media…”
I hardly noticed but Brian Corcoran, a god to us in that dressing room came as Sean Og was speaking and sat beside me and put his arm over my shoulder as Sean Og spoke. No other words were needed.
I had conversations with some teammates through that period that went deeper than any conversations which sport on its own could have thrown us into. We formed bonds that will never be broken. I wouldn’t swap those moments for anything.
I still define myself as a sportsman, a son, a brother, a Cork man, as a hundred things but that’s the point. Since that time so many young men and women have come to me to talk about their own situations and my message has been the same. Don’t let anybody else define you. Don’t ever let any one thing define you. No one owns the definition of love. That will help you stay sane and be happy.
Over the last few weeks the issue of gay players coming out while still active in team sports seems to have occupied a huge proportion of the back pages. All these decades after Jackie Robinson first faced down the hate it seems unlikely that we could even still be talking about matters like this but the stories of Robbie Rogers and Jason Collins reminds us of how slowly the world turns.
Rogers is the Leeds United soccer player who announced his sexuality and his retirement from pro soccer in virtually one breath. I read his long and tortured interview with the Guardian of London a week or two later. His sincerity and honesty moved me and I hoped that he would have a long and happy life.