SALT LAKE CITY —
Now that Jason Collins is out as the first gay male still active in a major U.S. team sport, the logical step is to wonder what problems he’ll face next NBA season.
My guess: It won’t involve his being gay. It will be finding/keeping his job. He’s a 34-year-old free agent with career 3.6 point, 3.8 rebounding averages. He made just 9 of 29 shots last season and had 60 rebounds in 38 games this year.
Yes, he says he’s gay, so what about his field goal percentage?
This isn’t an era of open discrimination in sports. Too many other respected athletes have already come out: Billie Jean King, Greg Louganis, Brittney Griner, Martina Navratilova, Megan Rapinoe, Esera Tuaolo, Sheryl Swoopes. All made it easier — maybe even possible — for Collins.
There’s not a team in pro basketball that would pass over a player based on sexual orientation. Considering the positive publicity Collins has received, it might even help a team.
In any case, it’s a simple formula: If you can play, you’re in.
There’s too much money at stake to worry about who a player dates.
In some ways, Collins’ revelatory article in Sports Illustrated this week was an updated version of an old story. John Amaechi, the former Utah Jazz player, came out in a 2007 book, after retirement, suggesting that certain Jazz coaches, including Jerry Sloan, were homophobic. What he didn’t emphasize was that Sloan was notoriously hard on out-of-shape players. From what we know of Collins, he is a valued team player, prepared for every game. The same wasn’t true of Amaechi, whose conditioning was questioned by coaches.
Is that being unduly harsh on Amaechi? Not if it’s about equality. Collins has a reputation for reporting in shape, Amaechi didn’t and oh, by the way, did you know they’re both gay?
Equal opportunity doesn’t mean everyone gets a pass.
In any case, both Collins and Amaechi were good spokesmen on behalf of their teams. Both went to top-level colleges, Collins to Stanford and Amaechi to Vanderbilt and Penn State.
Amaechi was one of the likable Jazz players of that era, polite and insightful.
As a paint presence, he left a lot to be desired.
Whether Collins’ announcement will make it awkward for him in the NBA is doubtful. The league has long been committed to anti-discrimination. A player is more likely to suffer ridicule for a bad tattoo. (Hello, Andrei Kirilenko.)
Players know who can play, and if you can, they want you on their team. Coaches want anyone who can get wins. The league wants well-spoken, good citizens. Collins fits that profile.
Coming out means Collins will hear from a few fans — but only the kind that also yell racial slurs and make gender remarks. At the same time, he isn’t Jackie Robinson, to whom he has been compared. Robinson was an original, the first African-American player in the Major Leagues. Collins will never suffer the indignities Robinson did, like being banned from a hotel or told to eat in a different restaurant because he’s gay.
Although Collins’ announcement in a Sports Illustrated story on Monday was honest and heartfelt, it wasn’t earth shattering. That’s because this just isn’t going to be a terribly controversial issue for either him or the league. In the WNBA, homosexual players have long been accepted. Is there anyone who actually thought an active NBA player would never come out? Or that there won’t be more?
If this is an age of acceptance and tolerance, it is also a time of bottom-line accounting. Collins is free to “assume(s) the leadership mantle,” as the NBA put it in a statement.
Just make sure he gets some rebounds, too.
Low post defenders are hard to find, so he’ll likely get another shot with someone. Yet one of the great statements on equality might actually be if he gets signed by a team and then cut. Equality means you’re judged by the same standards as everyone else.
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