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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Magic Johnson's admission of having HIV/AIDS in 1991 triggered public outcry and homophobia. (PHOTO: Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock.com )

Reaction to Collins news shows how far we've come


This may be little bit of apples and oranges, but the overwhelming contrast between two big events in the same arena are way too much to ignore for the both explanations and evaluation of what we have become as a society.

In 1991 Magic Johnson stood up at a news conference and announced that he had HIV/AIDS. It is impossible to overstate the controversy, duration and utter shock of the announcement. This was a disease that, as far as we know, only affected gay men. Was Magic gay? Rumors swirled, some of them fueled by former on-court rivals. The rumors were fed by endless media speculation. Players in the league expressed fear of playing against him because "What if I got his blood on me?" He was loved, but he was also reviled and had his judgement, integrity and honesty questioned. For months and months and months.

Move ahead two decades.

Another NBA player not Magic, but no slouch, either Jason Collins announces the the world that he is gay. For months, all the pro leagues had been preparing for a similar announcement from somebody. They had formed alliances with LGBT groups, laying plans for how to respond and how to handle the inevitable public reaction.

While Collins' revelation was big and will have implications beyond his playing days, the story had a very short shelf light. It was more than 24 hours but less than 48 that it remained the main topic of conversation. Except for crazy people and people who didn't have shows until the weekend, once it was out, the reaction seemed to be "Gee. Good for him. Pass the potatoes, please."

Now, just over a week later, hardly anyone is talking about this. Oh, they may wonder if Collins, who is nowhere near the Magic Johnson galaxy, will get picked up to play another year or two. They may idly wonder who is next. But as far as being fixated on this thing, either for or against, you'd be hard pressed to find anything outrageous.

In Milwaukee, for example, we seem to care much more about a planned streetcar loop Downtown than about whether somebody, athlete or not, is gay.

I'm not positive, but I think this lack of reaction is due in part to the fact that many, if not most, of us, are growing up and realizing what's important. Who cares if two guys or two ladies want to get married? Of course they should be able to be married. It's no skin off anybody else's nose.

Like I say, there are still pockets hidden in the shadows where the crazy people live and they will continue to spew their hate until they are put out of our misery. These people used to rule the landscape, especially here in Wisconsin.

I'm not including real churches and religions in this. I have a hard time condemning anyone for their religious beliefs. They can believe what they want, but don't make me either believe or behave the way you think I should. Go believe, but stay out of my way.

It was just seven years ago that this state passed an amendment to our constitution that announced that marriage was between a man and a woman, and only a man and a woman. That amendment, fueled by the Wisconsin Family Action group, which is for everything, it seems, except families, was approved by 59 percent of the people who voted.

As a side, based on that provision, our legislature passed a law that said if two people of the same sex got married in another jurisdiction and then came back to Wisconsin they were subject to a $10,000 fine or nine months in prison. Sometimes you just have to shake your head in mystified and disgusted wonder at some of these people.

What this last week has created in my mind is a question of whether that kind of proposed amendment would pass now in Wisconsin. Sure, there would be another bogus family rights group driving the train down the track they have built. And there would be debate.

But I also think, that even in Wisconsin, we have moved beyond this kind of homophobic bull crap. There is a big part of me that wants to believe that if we faced this issue again, we'd all just yawn and get back to worrying about that streetcar thing.

At least, I hope that's how it would go.

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