Louisville gay rights leaders are praising veteran NBA player Jason Collins publicly announcing that he is gay, but area sports commentators say the revelation will do little to change the game.
The 34-year-old Collins is a free agent who reveals his sexual orientation in the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated, which makes him the first active professional male athlete to disclose his homosexuality.
Collins cited the recent NBA lockout and his friendship with Demcoratic Congressman Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts as the reasons he came out.
Why am I coming out now? Well, I started thinking about this in 2011 during the NBA player lockout. I’m a creature of routine. When the regular season ends I immediately dedicate myself to getting game ready for the opener of the next campaign in the fall. But the lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want. With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided. (SNIP)
I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I’d been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, “Me, too.”
Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman says it is a courageous step for Collins, adding it was only a matter of time before a player came out.
“The sports industry is just catching up with the rest of mainstream American culture, which is fully embracing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered folks. It was going to come professional sports sooner or later, and now it has,” he says.
Several inactive male athletes have come out of the proverbial closet and recently NCAA women’s basketball player Britney Griner revealed she is a lesbian.
For many observers, however, the revelation of an active athlete in men’s professional team is a different issue due to the historic implications. The stereotype that gay men are not masculine enough to play sports, particularly among African-American men, is a taboo Collins could shatter for LGBT and straight fans of professional basketball.
“You have a professional saying firmly and proudly: I am a black gay man. I think he’s a role model for all of us,” says gay rights activist Jaison Gardner, who co-hosts WFPL’s Strange Fruit podcast. “I think he ought to be for those who are gay or bisexual, and also for straight brothers who hold onto these old school notions that gay men aren’t athletic and less macho.”
A number of high-profile players have issued statements supporting Collins’s announcement, including NBA star Kobe Bryant. It’s expected if Collins—who stands at 7 feet tall—is picked up by another team next season teammates will embrace him, but opponents during the game could be different.
Leaders such as Hartman called it “bullying” when asked if other players taunting Collins on the floor was discriminatory, but some local sports commentators argue while the NBA should embrace his decision trash talking is a part of the game.
“People are going to use anything they can as a competitive advantage. So if they are able to say something that they feel will get under Jason Collins’s skin as far his sexual orientation—yeah, you will hear it,” says attorney Derwin Webb, who is a former University of Louisville basketball player.
“Now as far as his teammates in the locker room, I doubt you’ll get a serious backlash out of it. You may have some people here and there who might not be comfortable with a homosexual being in a locker room with them, but those people are folks you don’t want to be around in the first place.”
One of the league’s most infamous players who use mind games is Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, who has allegedly talked about other player’s illnesses, their wives and deceased mothers. While many argue it crosses a line to use certain slurs against Collins, it could be unofficially acceptable to use his revelation during play.
Main Event Sports radio host Haven Harrington says Collins coming is a part of the country’s changing culture, but it won’t affect how the game or coarse language on the court.
“It is fair to trash talk about anything on the court. Now off the court is very different and many players are totally different off the court than on. But trash talking is part of professional sports, and you know who is going to be in your face talking crazy to you and doing weird stuff all the time,” he says.
Other observers point out that due to his age and overall poor statistics, Collins may not be picked up by a team at all next season. Whether that is due to his performance or status as the first openly gay player is left to be determined.
“In these professional leagues if you can ball nobody cares. If your game is tight nobody is going to say much,” says Harrington. “Dennis Rodman dressed up as a woman and he was nicknamed the worm, which is an asexual creature. But he’s remembered as the greatest rebounder in the game.”