NBA center Jason Collins becomes first openly gay active player in major U.S. sport

Two weeks ago we were writing about a terrorist attack, today we’re writing about gay basketball players. A blogger’s life for me, my friends.

Easy prediction: 75 percent of the public will be casually supportive or casually disapproving but either way almost entirely indifferent. Fifteen percent, including lots of pols, celebrities, and the media, will support him enthusiastically. The other 10 percent will hassle him on the court or from the stands either because they dislike gays or just to spite the 15 percent of “opinion leaders” on the other side. Collins will get a standing O at his first home game next year — if he ends up being signed — and some fans on the road will get nasty with him when he fouls someone too roughly. He’ll do a few ads. Then, after a few months, with rare exceptions, everyone will get bored with it.


By its nature, my double life has kept me from getting close to any of my teammates. Early in my career I worked hard at acting straight, but as I got more comfortable in my straight mask it required less effort. In recent days, though, little has separated “mask on, mask off.” Personally, I don’t like to dwell in someone else’s private life, and I hope players and coaches show me the same respect. When I’m with my team I’m all about working hard and winning games. A good teammate supports you no matter what.

I’ve been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I’m a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now. My conduct won’t change. I still abide by the adage, “What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.” I’m still a model of discretion…

Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start. It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road. Former players like Tim Hardaway, who said “I hate gay people” (and then became a supporter of gay rights), fuel homophobia. Tim is an adult. He’s entitled to his opinion. God bless America. Still, if I’m up against an intolerant player, I’ll set a pretty hard pick on him. And then move on.

The most you can do is stand up for what you believe in. I’m much happier since coming out to my friends and family. Being genuine and honest makes me happy.


Collins technically isn’t the first active player from a big-four sport to be openly gay, he’s the first active player to go public with it. (Glenn Burke, an outfielder for the Dodgers and A’s in the 70s, was out to his teammates and coaches but didn’t announce it publicly until after he retired.) Early reaction is what you’d expect:

The White House:

“Here at the White House we view this as another example of the progress we’ve made and the evolution that has taken place,” press secretary Jay Carney said when asked if President Obama had a statement on Collins. Carney said he had not talked to the president directly about Collins.

And the Big Dog:

Former President Bill Clinton on Monday congratulated NBA center Jason Collins for becoming the first openly gay male American professional athlete.

“I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea’s classmate and friend at Stanford. Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community,” Clinton said in a statement.


It’s early yet, though. Someone in some league somewhere inevitably will say something disapproving, whereupon he’ll be shredded in the press until he formulaically apologizes.

By the way: None of this is a surprise, and Collins almost certainly isn’t the the only active big-four athlete who’ll be out by the end of summer. NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo told the Baltimore Sun on April 5 that “up to four players” were discussing whether to come out on the same day, to take the heat off of each of them individually. There’s been endless whispering in the media over the last month about MLB, the NFL, the NBA, and the NHL preparing for this sort of thing. Advertisers have been preparing too, with Nike practically dangling cash in front of gay athletes to get them to speak up:

Nike asked Welts to deliver a message to anyone thinking about becoming the first openly gay athlete in major U.S. team sports — the company wants him as an endorser.

“They made it clear to me Nike would embrace it,” Welts, 60, now president of the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors, said in a telephone interview. “The player who does it, they’re going to be amazed at the additional opportunities that are put on the table, not the ones that are taken off.”…

“We’ve passed the tipping point to where national advertisers are no longer afraid of the gay market,” said Mark Elderkin, chief executive officer of the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Gay Ad Network.


That calculus would be complicated for a superstar, especially in a sport like football, but not for an average aging player like Collins. So this is really just phase one: Now there’s a man on the court whom everyone knows is gay, but who doesn’t draw much attention otherwise. Phase two will be when an all-star, who carries his team, comes out. How much more pressure will he deal with from teammates and fans?

Exit question from DrewM: If people want to boo someone for their personal lives, why not boo these guys?

Update: That was fast. Dolphins WR Mike Wallace apparently tweeted “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH…” That tweet’s now gone, per TMZ, replaced by this:

Update: Like I said, the other leagues are preparing.

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