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He’s out – the first American pro sports player reveals he’s gay. But will he still be in the league next season?

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The man of the moment, NBA player Jason Collins

The man of the moment, NBA player Jason Collins

Don’t worry, I won’t spend the next few pages gloating over the Bombers’ Anzac Day victory over the Pies. It happened, it was glorious, I enjoyed it, (not) enough said…

Two good mates of mine played off in a basketball match last night. I was unaware of the game’s result, but woke up to a ‘Basketball star reveals he’s gay’ headline this morning. “What the hell happened last night?!” I texted my friends.

No, it turns out that Jason Collins, 12 year NBA veteran and bench player, decided to become the first active player in any of the four major US sporting organisations to reveal that he is gay.

Inspired by true events

Collins was inspired by the events of the Boston bombings – “The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect,” he wrote in Sports Illustrated. “Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?”

In support, one Kobe Bryant...

In support, one Kobe Bryant…

Collins’ outing has been followed up by a tonne of support in and out of the league. Superduperstar Kobe Bryant tweeted “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU”.

Also in support is NBA Main Man and Chief Commissioner David Stern, who issued a statement that read “Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.”

I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

The NBA Players Association has also stood behind their man, stating “The NBPA is dedicated to fighting for the best interests of and uniting all players regardless of race, creed, colour, age, national origin, or sexual orientation. Today is another example that we are intent on continuing that work. We congratulate Jason for having the courage to ‘raise his hand,’ as he wrote in his story, and start the conversation.”

"Yes I'll take the call!!"

“Yes I’ll take the call!!”

Phone call for you…

Hell, he even received a phone call from the President, which you don’t normally get unless you’re winning an NBA championship, which believe me, Collins never is.* Obama let him know that he was impressed by his courage and that he had the president’s support. Now that would be a cool phone call to receive…

Tellingly, Collins wore number 98 in his last two contracts in the NBA, with the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards. Why? In support for Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming who was tortured and murdered, targeted because of his sexual orientation.

The year of his death? 1998.

From this, the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organisation, was formed.

Nooowwww that ridiculous number makes sense!

Nooowwww that ridiculous number makes sense!

Not the ‘first’

Several male athletes have previously come out after they retired, including the NBA’s John Amaechi, the NFL’s Esera Tuaolo and Major League Baseball’s Billy Bean. But Collins is the first to do so while planning to continue playing.

Professional soccer player Robbie Rogers, who publicly came out early this year, tweeted, “I feel a movement coming,” in reaction to Collins’ announcement.

Collins, an end-of-the-bench type of role player, had 3,700 Twitter followers a mere 24 hours ago. Now, he’s at 13,000 and we can expect that to grow significantly in the coming days and weeks.

Will he be in the NBA ever again??

* So, one of the questions becomes, ‘Will Collins even be in the NBA next season?’ The future can only expect to see this issue become murkier and more politicized than ever before. Collins’ career averages are 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. We are not talking about a star, here.

And now, he is out of contract, having just finished up his 12th season at the Washington Wizards a couple of weeks ago, one of the worst franchises in the history of the league. Before this latest headline, there was no talk that the Wizards were interested in offered the lumbering center a new deal.

But can he play??

But can he play??

This isn’t political – get out on a basketball court for a game and try not to hit two baskets and let four rebounds fall into your lap during a game. It’s nearly impossible!

In a poll of 14 NBA General Managers, six said he would be playing again next season, eight said he would not. But all were equivocal in their contention that the decision would be based solely on his basketball potential, not on his sexual orientation.

Really??

I wonder about this. The media attention that would descend upon the team that signs Collins will be unprecedented. How is Collins handling the pressure? Is this a strong statement by the team within the city in support of the gay community? How are his teammates with the team hiring him? Are they all in support of Collins’ decision?

Under pressure

Is this type of attention worth a bloke who was a below-average player in his ‘prime’, let alone a man who will be a back-up center, unlikely to score more than three points or rebounds per game, required only in the event of injuries to other members of the roster? Again, I wonder.

However, what if teams are wise and courageous enough to push aside these peripheral issues and focus on his basketball abilities alone? And what if they look at the numbers, his recent history, and decide that no, he is not able to contribute on the court??

Backlash

How might this be interpreted by a media with a voracious appetite for ‘news’ in this arena? Will the NBA go from being heralded as a world leader to being besieged as a bigoted, discriminatory organisation? Will it be the fitting (or even overdue) end of the career of a previously unheralded basketball player well past his use-by date, or be portrayed as a rejection of gay rights, an evil and prejudiced denunciation of a courageous man who lost everything for telling the truth?

This would be a shame, because of all four major sporting codes in the US, the NBA would have been odds-on to have a player come out. In no other league could a player expect more support.

Believe me, in an era where players are still being asked about their sexual orientation in pre-draft interviews in the NFL, what did we expect?! Baseball or hockey to supersede them? I think not…

One more chance

One more chance

I truly hope that at least one NBA team who knows far more than me about the game and the league will see value in Collins’ basketballing abilities and will give the man a shot of at least one more season in the game. This hope is more out of fear of an uninformed, overwhelmingly negative response than anything else.

Two-time NBA MVP** Steve Nash summed it up best. “The time has come. Maximum respect.”

(** Kobe was robbed. Both times!)

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About petek8

Pete Evans has just finished going 12 months without watching any sport. The journey stemmed from a sense that the balance was out-of-whack with my time and my priorities. Everything seemed to revolve around creating enough time and space to fit in the last game, games, recap shows or space to surf the net for the latest numbers and analysis. The cycle never ends - one season leads into another, seasons overlap if you follow various sports and the media's insatiable appetite for a new 'story' means that even the greatest of achievements aren't heralded for more than 3 days. So I stepped away from the machine for awhile and intentionally engaging with the journey by writing about it.

2 responses »

  1. Well written but I’m not touching this one.

    Reply
  2. It’s not AFL mate, he will be given a contract on his ability not some marketing gimmick, but his options & marketability off the court will have grown enormously….although I don’t think Fox News will be signing him up!

    Reply

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