After school yesterday, by chance, my husband was home due to a late game rather than an after-school practice. With the windows open and a lovely breeze blowing through the house, we both sat on the couch and watched sports coverage with our twelve-year-old son.
Like many a boy his age, he is a sports lover in every sense of the word—player, fan, ESPN regular—who watches very carefully and with great awareness both within and without all that occurs in the world of sports, especially basketball and baseball, the two that he has finally narrowed his limited team participation time to include.
While we had planned to discuss the recent Jason Collins Sports Illustrated article with him, he broached the topic with us as he saw the news of Jason coming out as gay flash on the bar under the screen. A few seconds later, the commentary switched to begin coverage of this hot media tale, in my opinion, a powerful and huge uncovering in the professional sports world and beyond.
My son showed great interest in talking with us about this new opening in the world of sports. We talked about sexuality, equality and labeling. We talked about what our culture tends to deem “manly” and “feminine” as well as how these stereotypes can affect our courage to live true. We talked about what it means to fully accept others just as they are by first fully accepting ourselves.
We read aloud tweets from many different individuals whom my son respects in the sports world and beyond to share with him the scope of love, acceptance, and in some cases, downright excitement for Jason Collins’ newfound freedom. We shared with him a few of the intolerant tweets, too.
Finally, we discussed accepting even those who are intolerant because if we truly believe that there are millions of paths up the mountaintop, then we must include as a path those who believe there is only one path. Interestingly, of all the aspects of the Jason Collins story that we covered, this last one is the hardest for all of our children to understand. But understand it they must if they desire to live with integrity—inner truth matching outer expression.
Most of all, it is the freedom—the escape from hiding and shame—that we desired our son to grasp, so that he, too, knows that he will be supported in his wholeness and truth, whatever that may look like for him.
I don’t think we can underestimate the power of our cultural institutions—celebrity and sports being the big two in American culture, for better or worse—embracing peace, unity, truth and love. To uplift our world, to change our world, we need these dominant players of our cultural landscape to help usher in a change of heart.
For me yesterday, it felt like a watershed moment. I could see and feel in my twelve-year-old son’s eyes a barely detectable sense of relief and empowerment. Thanks, in part, to the many who will now go before him, he has a greater sense of safety that he can both offer his gifts AND be fully himself. And this knowing that we have always sought to model for him was amplified yesterday at a vulnerable time when he is discovering more and more each day just who he is, because it was mirrored back to him from a cultural institution—professional sports—upon which he deeply relates.
If you haven’t already, consider the Jason Collins story to be family discussion gold. It is a story that already has their attention and includes so many angles upon which to dissect what it means to be a human being.
Our teenage girls got in on the discussion once they came home from practices, and while moved by the story, the impact was not as great for them because they are already more secure in who they are indeed becoming as young women. But even they intuited the power of this story for our young boys, for they understand that the machismo on the sports fields across America and beyond remains one of the strongholds of a patriarchal paradigm that shapes much in our world.
Yesterday, that stronghold was weakened, signifying a greater space for ALL of us to breathe in deeper the freedom to live true, and therefore, breathe out wider, LOVE, both our soul’s great yearning. And it felt right and quite profound to share all of it so openly with our children.
Warmth and LOVE,
A modern bridge between the mainstream and the mystical, Annie Burnside, M.Ed. is a soul nurturer, award-winning author, and teacher specializing in parenting, conscious relationships, authentic living and spiritual development. Her book “Soul to Soul Parenting” won the 2011 Nautilus Silver Book Award. Find Annie on twitter @annieburnside