Jason Collins, a reserve NBA center, became a huge news story as well as symbol of increasing gay acceptance in America when he announced his sexual orientation in a Sports Illustrated cover story this week. This made him,technically at least, the first active athlete in one of the U.S’s major professional sports to “come out.” Since his team is not in the NBA play-offs, and since Collins is a free agent going into 2014, the NBA has yet to see its first openly gay player take the floor in a game, and Collins may not be the one who does it.
What does it all mean?
- Collins is courageous.
- I hate the fact that the state of celebrity economics, fame and popular culture makes me think like this, but it does: How can we know that Collins, a borderline and largely obscure NBA player nearing the end of his career, didn’t see a chance at the kind of fame, stardom and popularity, not to mention guest appearances, sponsorships and endorsements that have eluded him in his playing career, and grabbed it? We don’t. This was the kind of act that has nothing but good results whatever the motives of the actor, and so it is an ethical act by definition. Was it a truly selfless act, as it is being portrayed? I think Collins deserves the benefit of the doubt, but I sure have some.
- The universal support he has received from the NBA players willing to be quoted is suspicious. I am sure the word went out from the NBA high command that denigrating comments would not be tolerated, and that is fine. These men work for the NBA, and their employer has every right to insist on decorum and the company line when the League is under a public relations microscope.
- Even though Collins’ acknowledged sexuality should have no relevance to a team’s decision to sign him (or not), there is no way his future in the NBA can be separated from this announcement. As Nate Silver pointed out in today’s blog post, 34-year-old NBA centers like Collins don’t always find a place to play, no matter who or what they lust after. Yet if he is not signed, many will interpret it as a bigoted rejection of Collins by NBA teams because of his sexual orientation. If he is signed for 2014, others will see it as a public relations-dictated move having nothing to do with Collins’ basketball assets.
- My guess is that Collins may be signed because of his basketball skills, but that the NBA will make certain that some team signs him for the other reason…so the league won’t look like a cabal of hypocrites. If I were NBA Commissioner, I would.
- Collins continues a trend in such revelations: all the pro players in major sports who have identified themselves as gay have been obscure role-players and borderline professionals. This, in its own subtle and insidious way, reinforces anti-gay prejudices: the real men, you see, the stars, they are all heterosexual. Of course, they aren’t; there are a lot of gay superstars out there who would really make an impact if they leveled with the public, but apparently they feel they have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Maybe so. It would be a wonderful thing if one of them would follow Collins’ lead.
- The only sport I follow carefully is baseball, and I know of at least four prominent players, two in baseball’s Hall of Fame, who are widely acknowledged to be gay in the communities in which they played. You may know of others. I’m sure the sportswriters know, and probably many players and team personnel as well. It is impressive that such secrets can still be kept in this day and age, and reminiscent of how Hollywood protected the privacy of gay actors like Raymond Burr, Robert Taylor, and actresses like Barbara Stanwyck. I think it shows the remarkable loyalty and respect those players built during their careers in those cities and within their professions.
- The Collins story shows how strange and warped our values and priorities are. Why should the sexual orientation of a basketball player be a matter of any importance at all? In a sport where a disgraceful number of stars have fathered children with multiple mothers and barely know their names, why is a gay player the object of moral scrutiny? How does his sexual orientation affect anyone, harm anyone, or tell anyone anything about his competence or character? It’s a big deal, but it shouldn’t be a deal at all. The fact that Collins is gay should be as irrelevant as his favorite color or his political affiliation. It is as irrelevant. I don’t want to know about the sexual orientations, fetishes, favorite sexual activities or anything else of that nature about anyone I work with or associate with; it’s none of my business and it has exactly zero impact on my regard for them.
We will know the United States has grown up regarding its attitudes and biases regarding sexuality when a Jason Collins announces that he is gay, and the unanimous response is, “So what?”
Facts: New York Times