When former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins came out on Monday, he became the first active athlete from the United States in professional baseball, basketball, football and hockey to be publicly gay.
University of Wisconsin sociology professor Jane Piliavin said the news could have an impact on sports and homosexuality. Since Collins is a free agent, it will be interesting to see whether or not any team will pick him up next season, Piliavin said.

“At 34, this might not be because of his announcement,” Piliavin said. “He is getting old, and he is not a star. He is a journeyman.” 

In terms of coming out, Piliavin said there is a difference between male and female athletes. She said there have been many “out” lesbians in women’s professional sports that are not matched by male athletes. 

The better question, Piliavin added, is the difference between individual and team sports. 

While there have been men, mostly ice skaters and divers, who have come out in individual sports, Piliavin said there are no male golf players who have come out. She said many female golfers and tennis players have come out in addition to a few basketball players. 

On the difference between male and female sports, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Campus Center Director Gabe Javier said the culture around sports might make it difficult for people to come out. However, he said, the same could be said for other social or faith groups with different circumstances. 

Javier said Britney Briner, Women’s National Basketball Association top draft pick who just landed a lucrative deal with Nike, is another example of a courageous athlete coming out. While Collins’ coming out is a really important event, it is also important to remember the courageous stories of other athletes, he said.

When any high-profile person comes out as gay, Javier said it continues to add to the belief that people can come out and continue to lead healthy, successful and authentic lives. He said this is a really important message. 

“Certainly there is an assumption in sports that someone will be ostracized because of their sexual orientation,” Javier said. “Jason Collins and other athletes that have come out are starting to change the narrative.” 

While there are all types of LGBT people, Javier said there is a need for more LGBT role models. He said he is “certainly glad” that Collins is one of those role models now. 

If anything, Javier added, it is important to encourage the conversation about what it means to be a LGBT person and an athlete. 

“Conversation needs to continue to happen,” Javeir said. “Just because Jason Collins comes out, it doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable.” 

This, according to Javier, is a really significant event for people who follow the NBA and other major sporting organizations. 

Javier said he thinks many of people in the LGBT community are proud Collins was able to come out in a major sport. However, as people continue to address homophobia in sports, Collins should be used as an example, he said.