It’s true that most of us don’t care about the personal lives of athletes. As long at they’re not doing anything illegal, anything that harms animals or other human beings, or anything that compromises their athletic performance, we’d either prefer not to know or spend no more than 15 seconds around the water cooler talking about it before we move on to who should be the Red Sox closer.

We don’t like “real life” overlapping with life’s toy department. We’re also increasingly wary of how the line between ESPN and TMZ gets more and more blurry every day. And the absolute last thing we want is sports serving as the stage for political agendas.

This is why NBA journeyman and former Boston Celtic Jason Collins announcement he was gay didn’t just elicit applause from most corners of the sports world and scorn and ridicule from an ignorant minority. It also drew a lot of “Why should I care?” from people who are either closeted homophobes or need to give more thought to what kind of message their indifference sends.

The most publicized of the “What’s the big deal?” reactions came from former New England Patriot Asante Samuel and CBS sportscaster/talk show host Tim Brando. Clearly, neither really knows what coming out of the closet means.

“Straight people … are not announcing they’re straight, so why everybody have to announce their sexuality or whatever? You know, what they prefer,” Samuel said in a national radio interview. “So, that’s just how I see it. So, you know, that’s just my opinion on things. … All respect, you know, I have nothing but respect for the … decisions they make and whatever, but you know, you don’t have to … show it and flaunt it like that.”

Brando made his feelings known in a Twitter rant.

“I really don’t care and frankly why should anyone else,” he tweeted.

Talk about missing the point. The point isn’t to make anyone know or care who Jason Collins is attracted to. The point is to remove the stigma of homosexuality. Jason Collins, knowing that as an athlete he can help make that happen for a whole host of reasons, chose to make his private life public, or “flaunt it,” as Samuel put it.

A lot of people agree with Samuel and Brando. No doubt some of them are bigots who would prefer all of those evil, icky homosexuals stay in the closet. Others probably don’t care if someone is a homosexual or even if they want to marry their same-sex partner, but are still uncomfortable with the notion that their favorite athlete could be gay.

I believe, at least I want to believe, the majority of them aren’t bigots. They just want their athletes to be athletes, to entertain them with their athletic gifts on the field, ice and court. They wouldn’t mind if that favorite athlete’s yearbook bio said he had a husband. They just don’t want to be reading Sports Illustrated stories about how he decided it was time to come out.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t being ignorant or at least disingenuous. They should know that telling gays to keep it out of the sports section isn’t going to cut it anymore.

If, in fact, they want to live in a world where an athlete’s sexual preference ceases to be a major topic of discussion, then the task before them should be clear — do their part to make the world a little safer and accepting for anyone, whether they’re an athlete or not, to come out.

Gay athletes will never disappear from the sports pages and the highlights. What they do in their private lives will disappear when it’s no longer necessary for them to “flaunt it” in order for society to be treated fairly.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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