Pro Basketball’s Jason Collins Is First Out of the NBA Closet

Jason Collins isn't exactly the first major American pro athlete to come out as gay while still playing. But he is the first to man up while doing so.

openly gay athletes Jason Collins, Brittney Griner, Megan Rapinoe

Openly gay athletes such as Jason Collins are clearing the lanes for other LGBT athletes to step forward and claim their identities. (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Basketball player Jason Collins, most recently a center for the NBA’s Washington Wizards, narrowly missed becoming America’s first openly gay professional hoops star this morning.

The May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated, released one week prior to its cover date, features the 12-year NBA veteran’s amiable, confident face beside a heading that reads: The Gay Athlete.

“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport,” says Collins’s opening quote. “But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”

 

 

This front-page coming out is a brave and bold gambit by Collins and by Sports Illustrated, and its impact will not be diminished by the fact that Brittney Griner, the 7-foot-tall number-one draft pick of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, played openly gay all through college at Baylor University.

Aside from being gay and super athletic, Griner and Rapinoe have one more thing in common: Their openly acknowledged sexual identities in no way diminish the importance of what Jason Collins is doing.

Griner is not the only jock in a major American team sport to beat Collins to the title of “first openly gay athlete.” Soccer star Megan Rapinoe is a member of the United States women’s national soccer team, a squad that has been judged as one of the greatest teams in the history of organized sports.

Aside from being gay and super athletic, Griner and Rapinoe have one more thing in common: Their openly acknowledged sexual identities in no way diminish the importance of what Jason Collins is doing.

A 34-year-old Stanford University graduate, Collins is fully aware of the historical importance of coming out as gay while still an active participant in the sport. He is also, no doubt, keenly aware that self-identifying as homosexual all across the media universe is certain to trigger reaction throughout the NBA, not all of it favorable.

A generation ago, this cover story would have been merely whispered rumor. Next generation, thanks to Jason Collins’s actions, it might not even be news.

In the wake of Collins’s wakeup call, Twitter support has come thick and fast from players such as gay slur-tossing Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant (“Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others.”) and retired Golden State Warriors point guard Baron Davis (“I am so proud of my bro @jasoncollins34 for being real.”).

U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy (yes, those Kennedys), who was Collins’s roommate at Stanford, issued a ringing public endorsement for the 255-pound 7-footer’s full disclosure:

For as long as I’ve known Jason Collins, he has been defined by three things: His passion for the sport he loves, his unwavering integrity, and the biggest heart you will ever find. I’m proud to stand with him today and proud to call him a friend.

Wherever Collins finds himself playing as openly gay athlete next season, reactions in the locker room, on the court and in the stands may be bumpier.

In January 2013, the deceased girlfriend of Notre Dame university linebacker Manti Te’o was exposed to be a figment of an admittedly gay-struggling friend’s imagination. The girlfriend hoax raised the question of whether or not Te’o was also gay or gay struggling.

As reported in the Atlantic Wire, National Football League general managers were treating gay speculation about Te’o “as the proverbial elephant in the room” because teams “want to know what issues they may be dealing with down the road.”

In light of the NFL’s trepidation over gay athletes, Collins’s full transparency shines through as a clearly brave and unselfish stand. But his newly positioned profile, and enhanced branding, might very well have a double bottom line.

Griner, the other openly gay professional baller, just signed a major sponsorship deal with Nike. Analysts believe that a huge trove of endorsement cash is stacked up waiting for a major U.S. athlete to come out of the closet and scoop it up.

If Jason Collins turns out to be the player who lands that windfall, don’t be jealous: He will have earned every million of it.

How long do you think it will be before a professional athlete’s sexual orientation will not even be a news story? Leave you estimate in COMMENTS.

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Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice. Email Allan | @Allan_MacDonell

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