I don’t want to be Jason Collins.

Every year, Major League Baseball hosts Jackie Robinson Day, and every baseball player gives up their regular jersey number to wear #42, Robinson’s number with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  It’s a fantastic gesture and a tribute to a baseball legend and trailblazer.

And I always hope that in that sea of 42’s… I keep hoping someone will wear #1.

Number 1 is the number of Robinson’s teammate, Pee Wee Reese.  For it was Reese who refused to sign his name to a player-created boycott of the team if Robinson made the big leagues.  It was Reese who stood by Robinson and shook his hand and guided him through that turbulent 1947 season, and for many seasons after that.  It was Reese who first treated Robinson as a teammate, not as a sideshow or as an oddity.  In other words, Pee Wee Reese was an ally.

Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards just announced yesterday that he is gay, making him the first person on a current roster in any of the four major North American team sports to come out.   But now he has to face many obstacles, and those obstacles are going to take all his skill and his courage and his determination.

And as much as it would sound heroic and noble, he can’t do it alone.

Because, no matter what people think, there is still homophobia in this world.  Deep, sinister, vicious homophobia.  It’s people who hide behind computer monitors and, in their supposed anonymity and with a dose of monitor courage, send messages like “You’re a faggot” to the people they despise.  It’s people who presume that this person or that person is gay, and in some sinister twist of supposed homo inferiorus, suggest that if that person is gay, then they must be either a deviant or a pervert or a threat.  Think about it.  If you’re with someone and you happen to mention Derek Jeter’s name, and that person immediately responds back with, “Oh he’s gay.  He goes down on men.”  What would you think of that person?  That it was a joke?  That it was a sarcastic comment?  Or that it was just a pathetic statement?

Now for some people, their fear and hatred of anyone who professes to be gay is based on what they perceive as the following tenets – “IF a person is gay, then he likes to have sex with other men.  If a person likes to have sex with other men, then he might want to force me to have sex with him.  That would make him a pervert.  And if he did that to me, he would turn me gay as well and I would become a pervert.  I can’t have that.  Therefore, if someone is gay, then he’s in the wrong and I have every right to bash in his skull.”

Do you understand how full of horse manure that screwed-up statement is?

Trust me.  There’s plenty of gay-bashing and hatred out there towards members of the LGBTQ community to begin with.  And stupid statements like the one above hold about as much water as a sieve.

That’s where straight allies come in.  Straight allies are those people who work behind the scenes.  They don’t judge someone by sexual preference any more than they judge by religion or creed or race or national origin.  They judge by who that person is as a human being.

Personally, I wish we were in a world where seeing the letters GLBTQ means you’ve drawn five Scrabble tiles.  I wish we were in a world where people didn’t have to “come out” as if it was some sort of national requirement or worldwide mandate.   And as for Jason Collins, all I cared about him was that he was a halfway-decent NBA center with ten years of service for six NBA teams, and maybe a seventh team next year.  I didn’t care who he slept with, that’s not my business.  In fact, it’s not anybody’s business who he sleeps with or why.

But what I do care about is that if he has the courage to state his sexual preference in a public setting, and he’s willing to take on the prejudice that will come from other players and other fans and even the media – which has already happened in the 24 hours since he made his public announcement – what I care about is that Jason Collins will need straight allies.  Just as Jackie Robinson needed Pee Wee Reese when Robinson broke through Major League Baseball’s color barrier.

And somewhere, whether it’s with the Atlanta Hawks or with whatever new team he plays for next year, there’s a teammate that will be Jason Collins’ straight ally.  Someone who will tell the hecklers to shut up.  Someone who will challenge when Collins is fouled to the point of a Flagrant 2.  Someone who doesn’t care about what Collins does off the court, but instead cares when Collins can get in the low post and be ready for the lob pass for an easy layup.

We’ve come so far in this world, and yet we have just as far to travel.

Jason Collins has a far road to travel.  He shouldn’t have to do it alone.  If there is a teammate who is willing to stand up and be his straight ally, stand up now.  That takes just as much courage in this day and age to do so, as Collins did yesterday.

Because I don’t want to be Jason Collins.

I want to be the player who is Jason Collins’ straight ally.