Monday, April 23, 2018
Sports

Collins announcement a step toward sports' acceptance of gay athletes

Jason Collins deserves our respect, our admiration.

He should be applauded.

Not only is Collins the first active male player in one of the four major U.S. professional sports leagues to announce his homosexuality, which is certainly a courageous act, but let's not forget that he is going public with a very personal matter. This is, after all, Collins' life we're talking about, not just the answer to a future trivia question.

But by going public, Collins is hoping to pave the way for other gay athletes to come out and to, as he said, start a conversation.

For the most part, reaction to Collins' decision to go public has been positive and supportive. Many see this as a groundbreaking moment in sports, and it definitely has the potential to be so.

But it isn't groundbreaking just yet.

Collins' announcement is brave. He is to be commended for the intelligence, reasoning and articulation he showed making his announcement. But the impact remains to be seen. Here's why:

Collins might not ever play again

Calling Collins an "active'' player is really just a technicality. He played last season and he's not officially retired. So, yeah, that makes him active. But he is not currently on an NBA roster. He did not make this announcement in the middle of a season or the middle of a contract.

He's a free agent and, at 34, there's no guarantee that he will sign with anyone. If he doesn't, some will likely believe it's because he's gay. But he just might not be good enough to play anymore.

He is, at best, a backup center, and maybe even a third-stringer. We're waiting for a reaction from fans or teammates that might never come. If Collins never plays again, he would be no different from John Amaechi, a former NBA player who announced his homosexuality after his playing days were over.

Collins is not a household name

The bigger the name, the more impact this announcement would have had. This is not to suggest that Collins should not have made his announcement. Again, it's his decision, his life. But let's be honest, most people had never even heard of Collins before Monday. He has bounced around for 12 seasons, playing for six teams and averaging three points and three rebounds. He's a career journeyman who might play another season or two, if that.

What if it had been an All-Star, a future Hall of Famer who had come out? Perhaps that would be a more accurate gauge of how fans who buy jerseys and companies looking for celebrity endorsers and teammates will react to a gay athlete.

Collins remains the only one

Collins' announcement always will be courageous no matter what happens going forward. But the only way it will be viewed as groundbreaking is if other players go public with their homosexuality. Let's see if another player comes out today. And another tomorrow. And 10 more next week. Let's see if a player comes out in the NFL — the league where a gay athlete might meet the most resistance.

The hope is that it gets to the point where a player's sexuality is no longer news.

Again, this doesn't mean that Collins' coming out is any less important. Before there can be many, there has to be a first. But the question remains: Will there be many?

Final analysis

It could be years before we see the full effect of Collins' announcement.

For now, the real test isn't to see how the public is going to react to Collins, but how other athletes react to him. The public, for the most part, doesn't seem to have a problem.

Same-sex marriage has growing support in this country. There's no question that most folks don't care about the personal habits of gay celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Jodie Foster, Nathan Lane and Wanda Sykes. We like or don't like them based on their talents.

In fact, even sports fans have shown they don't care about an athlete's sexual preference. Just think of Martina Navratilova, Greg Louganis and Billie Jean King.

Gay athletes haven't come out, I suspect, because they fear what the reaction will be. When it comes to locker rooms, it only takes two or three to make someone feel unwelcome.

Oddly enough, sports — often on the leading edge of social change — is behind most of society when it comes to this topic.

Maybe, just maybe, Collins' announcement will help sports catch up with the rest of society.

Maybe.

The cause hasn't ended with Collins' announcement. It is just getting started.

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Published: 04/22/18