Monday, April 29, 2013

Great Play: Free Agent NBA center Jason Collins Comes Out In Sports Illustrated

Acceptability of LGBT people in society and culture has seen an exponential increase over the past few years mainly due to people in popular culture taking the courageous step to come out. Actors and actresses, musicians, and talk show personalities all have come out with thankfully less and less reaction (one can only hope to see the day when it won't matter or be a news story at all). Even TV shows are being written with prominent characters like Modern Family and Glee just as once it took a few brave writers and studios to make roles for black actors and actresses. One of the last domains of popular culture waiting for a break through has been men's major professional sports. That all changed today with the online release of a story to be out in the May 6th issue of Sports Illustrated - in it NBA center Jason Collins comes out as being gay.


Of course there have been others to precede him. Pro women such as the recent coming out of WNBA #1 draft pick Brittney Griner during post-draft interviews. And recently a pro soccer player, Robbie Rogers, came out though in some ways his seemed to be more of a retirement announcement (though other players encouraged him to return). Some players like Brendon Ayanbadejo have even made statements supporting gay marriage and the possibility of an openly gay man in their locker room, and Phoneix Suns exec Rick Welts recently came out. But no offense to the the genders, specific sports or leagues, or positions of those people - they did not and would not have the same impact as a player from what are considered the premier sports leagues of America: MLB, NASCAR (now that would be interesting), NBA, NFL, or NHL coming out.

The wait is over, thanks to the courage of Collins, a new day in pro sports starts today.

The editorial from Collins himself, not a reporter, starts like this: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."

He talks about why he chose now, having had time to get out of routine and be himself during the lockout and the Boston bombing creating a sense of immediacy, and of being free to be who he is. "Now I'm a free agent, literally and figuratively. I've reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful."

The fact that this is submitted by him and not a report gives a very personal and honest story with no spin by a journalist or editor. I thank SI for releasing it as is by Collins and encourage everyone to read the entire letter (update - and also for removing the comments section from the page, no need to see all the trolls out on a positive story).

The timing is interesting as he is currently a free agent unsigned with a team. To me the courage to do it now is greater. If he was with a team under contract he would be settled and not have to worry about the implications. Now that he has come out any team seeking to sign him could (though they should not) consider this announcement and what it might mean to locker chemistry. It has been nice to see though that the reaction has been positive by the league and his latest team, the Wizards.
Stern is cited in the SI article as saying "As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family. 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."
Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said this on behalf of the team: “We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation.”
We probably won't have to wait long to get some feedback from current players, one can only hope it is positive (a stream of Twitter reactions including other teams and even athletes can be seen at ESPN) and bodes well for his return. If he can be welcomed to a team, whether back to the Wizards or to another, with no current contract then the NBA and all pro-sports will be served notice that a player's sexuality is no issue.

Great Play Mr. Collins.