You can argue about Jason Collins stature in the NBA (HE’S A JOURNEYMAN!), you can argue about his status as an active player (HE’S A FREE AGENT!), you can argue about whatever you think there is to argue about a gay athlete coming out of closet, because this is America, and in America we believe that if you have an argument, then dadgumit you have the right to a split screen and a clip-on mic (KEEP IT SHORT BECAUSE WE’RE GOING TO BREAK!). What you cannot argue is that some issues cannot be resolved by way of argument. Or, rather, that they cannot be resolved using the preferred argumentative format of our times: 30 seconds of opinion followed by 30 seconds of rebuttal followed by 15 seconds of simultaneous high-pitched screeching before a hard cut to an erectile dysfunction commercial. And that one potential complication of arguing such an issue via the 30/30/15 format — or its written equivalent, Twitter — is telling the subject of the argument and, presumably, a few of your viewers that they are going to hell.
That, after all, is what Chris Broussard did when he told an ESPN audience that he believes that people who engage in sexual intercourse outside of marriage are sinners who are living in open rebellion of God. The reaction from the Internet was swift and fierce, and by dinnertime all of the blogs seemed to be unanimous in their judgment that Broussard is an asshole and everybody should move on with their news cycles. And that’s fine, because the Internet exists to render judgment and move on. But it also undercuts much of the potential good of Jason Collins’ decision to come out.
While our reaction to the Jason Collinses of the world offers us a chance to measure the enlightenment of our society, it is our reaction to the Chris Broussards that will dictate its future trajectory. Collins’ decision to share his sexuality is important because of the impact it can have on members of our society who might finally discover somebody with whom they can identify. But Broussard’s decision to share his theology is also important, because it is a theology that is shared by a considerable segment of Americans, and if you think a couple of snarky blogposts and a #FireChrisBroussard hashtag affect change within them, then you haven’t been hanging out with enough conservative evangelicals lately.
You cannot use persecution to alter a belief system that exists largely because of persecution. You can, however, use reason, which was a favorite tool of that humble woodworker’s son they called Jesus of Nazareth. Like, for instance, that time at the Mount of Olives when the religious officials of the day had gathered to punish a woman who had committed adultery, and he responded by writing in the dirt that whichever of the officials had not committed a sin should be the first to cast a stone.
Of course, Jesus’ lesson that day probably would not have translated as well had he been forced to deliver it into a camera opposite a Pharisee wearing a Ralph Lauren blazer and designer frames. The 30/30/15 formula almost never equates to a net gain in understanding. This time around, ESPN had the misfortune of using it to discuss an issue whose debate as led to theological schisms in entire denominations over the years. It is the kind of discussion that needs to be held on a radio program that is hosted by a gentleman with an English accent who is twirling a snifter of brandy, not a cable sports program that is little more than vehicle for pharmaceutical companies to hawk boner pills.
All of this might make you wonder whether an athlete has the ability to affect social change in the current age, since whatever good he performs is likely to be overshadowed by the cranium-deep pontifications of whatever goober happens to be on air that day. But then you come back to the most telling piece of context that you read today, that it took Jason Collins 32 years before he felt comfortable sharing his sexuality with the brother who had been by his side since they were just a couple of embryos floating in the amniotic sea of life. That’s when you understand the greatest lesson of the day: It doesn’t fucking matter what Chris Broussard believes.