Monday, April 29, 2013

Jason Collins, NBA Player, Says He's Gay. He's Also Very Smart.

By now you've heard the news made today on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Jason Collins says he's gay. Collins played in the NBA this season for the Boston Celtics and for the Washington Wizards.
Jason Collins
Collins was a free agent with the Wizards, and is not now under contract with any NBA team. Intentionally or not, Collins has done at least two other things besides come out as gay. Collins has deftly avoided making a team look like they're homophobic by getting rid of Collins now after he comes out as gay in case he was not in their basketball plans. In coming out in this fashion, Collins didn't confront the NBA with this, or put anyone on the defensive. (Collins also didn't piss the NBA off by making the announcement during the finals) From a public relations stand point, this is a good move. But let's face it, Collins, a 12 year NBA veteran who is clearly at the end of his career, is trying to get one more NBA contract using all marketble assets, just like any of us would. When you only score 41 points the whole season, you need to pad your resume.

Collins announcement was timed for maximum effect. There are a large number of people who, 'only watch the NBA at playoff time, now watching the NBA. The issue will be discussed on every one of the 400 ESPN basketball shows, and every show on TBS, TNT, and NBA TV.  Every major network had a segment on Collins announcement. Twitter got Collins on blast. Tweets of support are being tallied by Bill Clinton, "I'm proud to call Jason Collins a friend." Ellen DeGeneres, "I'm overwhelmed by your bravery, Jason, & sending so much love." And many more!

This is an international news story. Professional basketball is played in almost every European country, Asia and the Middle East. If those leagues didn't know they could get their hands on a seven-footer with 12 years NBA experience, they do now.

Collins is getting a two-fer. We've never had an "out" gay man play any American team sport so coming out is historic and heroic. But we're also talking about a guy nearing the end, some might say at the end, of a 12 year NBA career. Collins stats compare with guys like, Kurt Nimphius, Blair Rasmussen and Nenad Krstic. I never heard of them, either.
Kurt Nimphius
Collins says he "didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete on a major American Sports team, but since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation."
Martina Navratilova
If you want to rip Collins, don't rip him because he is an athlete coming out as gay, or because Collins seems like he's willing to come out now to land a deal. Rip him because that quote seems awfully dismissive of all the other gay athletes already out as gay. Martina Navratilova has been out as gay since 1981. She was out-ted, by the New York Daily News. And the conversation about being a gay athlete was born a long time ago, Collins must have just gotten to the hospital. If you're looking for a pioneer in male team sports, look no further than John Ameche. The ex-NBA player came out in 2007, following a 5 year career. Since then, Amaechi has been the public face of gay professional athletes. And by saying he's happy to start the conversation, Collins is also forgetting about women such as Seimone Augustus, Olympic Gold Medalist and WNBA basketball player, and Lori Lindsey, an Olympic Gold medalist in soccer.
Seimone Augustus
John Amaechi
There is no denying that the timing of Collins announcement could hardly be better. Attitudes toward the LGBT community are more liberal now than they've ever been in this country.

*According to a report by the Williams Institute at UCLA, every U.S. state has increased in its support for same-sex marriage, with an average increase of 13.6 percent, and if the public opinion trends continue at the same pace, eight additional states will be above 50 percent support by the end of next year.

*A POLITICO and George Washington University survey found that, out of 1,000 likely voters, 40 percent of respondents said they support marriage equality, while 30 percent said they supported civil unions.

*Civil Unions between gay couples in Colorado will be legal starting Wednesday, seven years after the legislature passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Remember when the debate was about being gay? Now its whether gay people, whom we now presumably accept, should get married!
Five years ago, about the time Amaechi came out, no able NBA player could have revealed their orientation. Now, thanks to changing attitudes, there might be a few teams willing to see if Collins can still play or even give him the benefit of the doubt because being the first is a box office draw. It's great news about Collins coming out party, but just remember, like any other American, Collins has self-interest at heart as well.

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