With the help of Sports Illustrated, NBA free agent Jason Collins made public that he is gay Monday morning. While attempting to focus on the topics of my Communication Arts lecture, I experienced – for the first time in awhile – a “Hell yeah!” moment. Finally, an active athlete playing a major American sport was publicly acknowledging his status as a gay man. Hell yeah.
I didn’t have this reaction because I’m gay – I’m not. It wasn’t because I actively support gay rights – at times I will, and at times I won’t. I had this reaction because, as a human being, I would absolutely hate to have to hide the identity, any identity, that I know as my own from the people to whom it means something. In this case, it was the world of sports.
Sports Illustrated allowed Collins to detail his own story, printed online and in the May 6 edition of the magazine.
The story is great, but how great, really? Collins is a 12-year veteran center but has no clue whether or not he will be suiting up for an NBA team next season.
Some discussed whether or not Collins is a hero. Longtime CBS sports broadcaster Tim Brando doesn’t think so. He made it clear by way of Twitter, making a fool of himself by saying one thing, meaning another and contesting nearly each reply of the public in an antagonistic tone. But whether or not Collins is actually a hero is a question that rightfully couldn’t be decided Monday afternoon, Tuesday or even this week, even though Collins has done most of all that he can do.
Plenty has been written about Collins in the two-day wake of his decision. From the spectrum, it sounds as if Collins is expected to be a leader for the gay community, especially those interested or enveloped in athletics. It seems as if Collins is perfect for the job. He probably is, but he seemingly only can do so much - at the outset – that he hasn’t already done.
He sought out a sports media mogul, prompted it with the story of the season and positioned his career into a multi-layered lens, all the while starting a new job search for employment in the same league next season. All that he can really say has been said. It is now up to the people around Jason Collins to decide how monumental he really will become.
In part, it is up to the NBA, though this may be the stickiest of all. Collins has already enjoyed a healthy career bouncing among six different teams throughout his 12 seasons. He is 34 years old and definitely approaching his finish line. As a 7-foot player, a demand will always be at the least somewhat existent.
Although he played just 38 games this season between the Atlanta Hawks and the Washington Wizards, Collins started nine of them, proving that he can still present a formidable value as a backup in the NBA. That’s exactly what he would like to do next season, but he needs a shot. He needs an NBA executive to take notice of what he has done as a basketball person and rightfully look past any qualm they could have with his identity as a gay person.
He would also need the respect of many players. He needs the respect of teammates and opponents, rookies and veterans, all-stars and scrubs. Most everyone. He undoubtedly has the respect from Robbie Rogers.
Rogers, a 25-year-old former professional soccer player announced in a blog post back on February 23 that he was gay. Well within the prime of his career, Rogers announced in the same post his retirement from the game he considered his “escape, purpose and identity.” Rogers came out as gay, but his story promptly folded. His mark as a gay athlete ended with the same blog post that started it, although a smidgen of good news recently arose that he may be trying again.
So right now, it’s all about Collins. If he doesn’t get signed to an NBA team next year, an active gay athlete may not be representing the others assumed and rumored to exist. If he doesn’t get signed we will likely never know the reason.
It could be that he was assessed at little value as a backup. Or it could be that he is just too old to induce a team to beckon his way. Or it could be that he is gay. I hope not. That’s where I would have a “Hell no!” moment.
But most importantly – aside from the NBA – it is up to other athletes with a similar identity to Collins, or any humane identity they’ve kept hidden from a world of nonacceptance.
It’s impossible for me to speak on the situation of a gay athlete hoping his identity doesn’t concern the players, coaches and fans they live and work around all year long. However, it is understandable to think that if no other athlete makes a Collins-like decision, the barrier that initially held him back and is inherently holding others back will continue to appear as an insurmountable mountain.
It can’t come from outside; it must come from within. Fans and analysts can beg and plead how something needs to happen – that a leader needs to emerge. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Collins, so it won’t be easy for other athletes in a similar spot.
Right now, his decision is just the selling point. How others react will be the telling point.
Sean is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. What do you expect to be the eventual product of Jason Collins’ decision? Let him know with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or with a tweet to @sean_zak.