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Monday, May 06, 2013

The truth about past relationships

NBA player Jason Collins famously came out as gay last week, the first active player in a major U.S. team sport to do so. The reaction was the expected mixed bag. One mini firestorm erupted over comments by media critic Howard Kurtz, who chastised Collins for not owning up to his having been engaged to a woman. Unfortunately for Kurtz, Collins actually mentions his engagement (along with the fact that he dated women) in the eighth paragraph of the Sports Illustrated cover story. Kurtz apologized--initially in a typically half-assed fashion, then more unequivocally--and was grilled about it on CNN, stating "I deserve the criticism, I accept it and I am determined to learn from this episode." He also was terminated from The Daily Beast, although he insists this was in the works for a while and the timing was a coincidence.

Criticisms of Kurtz, and his apology, all focus on the factual error of his criticism. But this suggests that had Kurtz been correct and Collins had not mentioned the engagement, Kurtz's criticism would have been justified. Is that right? hat bothered me about Kurtz's initial story (but that I did not see discussed) was the stupidity of his premise: Collins was not being completely honest or forthcoming in excluding the detail of his engagement from the SI story. When a public-figure comes out, does the story really have to be "complete" and does that completeness necessarily include details about past heterosexual sexual activity? And how deep does this run--what is it, exactly, that Kurtz believes the public is entitled to know? Is it only the engagement about which Collins was obligated to "come clean"? Is it all dating? Is it the number of heterosexual sexual partners? Collins is 34 years old and only recently (within the past several years) came to understand his sexuality. It stands to reason that in the decade-plus between puberty and his coming out, he dated and had relationships, perhaps even long-term and serious relationships, with women. But why is that fact remotely relevant to the story of his coming out? Does it make him less gay? Does it make his story less sympathetic that he behaved as many closeted (or unrealizing) GLBT people do and as people have been forced to do by society, particularly in the world of team sports?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 6, 2013 at 02:34 PM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink


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"Criticisms of Kurtz, and his apology, all focus on the factual error of his criticism."

To the contrary, I thought that the heatedness of the criticism had everything to do with the underlying point he was making, and I definitely saw some pieces claiming that there have been issues with Kurtz's reporting on gay news events in the past. In fact, I think the reason that all the criticism has focused so heavily on the factual inaccuracy of his piece is that the inaccuracy is a convenient ad hominem means of making him and his point look stupid (and thereby shutting up the one prominent person who's raised it), without getting into whether it actually is a bad point. Now, I agree that Collins didn't have to disclose his past heterosexual relationships to the world. But there's a bit of an elision in your post between that and whether it "make[s] his story less sympathetic that he behaved as many closeted (or unrealizing) GLBT people do and as people have been forced to do by society," which seems more debatable. I'll take it as a given that many GLBT people feel forced by society to prevaricate about their sexuality, and, in order to make the prevarication credible, fabricate heterosexual relationships or activities, sometimes engage in them with unknowing members of the opposite sex, etc. And I would say that to a point that's okay, or at least excusable. But getting engaged to and using a single human being for several years as the means of this dissimulation seems morally problematic, however strong the forces to appear to be straight may be. And it seems to me that that's the conversation that's being suppressed when people pick on what a sloppy piece Kurtz wrote.

Posted by: Anon. | May 6, 2013 3:29:11 PM

To the extent it is morally problematic that he was engaged to a woman, to whom does he owe an explanation cum apology? The woman, obviously, which he provided. He called her in advance of the public announcement; according to her statements to the press, his honesty helped take away some of the pain--she said she was more hurt by his sudden and unexplained breaking-off of the engagement than by now knowing the truth.

But does Collins owe the *public* an announcement, explanation, or apology? This is what Kurtz was suggesting and this is what I am pushing back against. How is it relevant to his coming out as a gay athlete? How does it affect the story he is telling about his sexuality or to how we process that information?

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | May 6, 2013 3:42:37 PM

Kurtz is an example of the Peter Principle as applied to "celebrity journalists."

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | May 7, 2013 6:57:31 AM

Howard asks why would Mr. Collins owe the public an announcement or explanation about his prior engagement, and further, how that would be relevant to his announcement that he is a gay athlete.

Taking a step back, one wonders why either "announcement" is needed.

To Shag from Brookline, I agree it seems Mr. Kurtz has been promoted past his competence...

Posted by: ?? | May 7, 2013 4:45:09 PM

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