There was a faint whiff of orchestration in Jason Collins’ disclosure of his sexuality, beginning with his first-person declaration on Sports Illustrated’s website:
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
Basketball fans knew the first two parts. The news was in the last sentence. Collins became the first active male player in a major U.S. pro-sports league to come out as gay. Athletes in minor sports have come out while still active and a handful of others in major sports have done so after they retired.
Women pro athletes have been coming out for years. Britney Griner is a two-time AP college basketball player of the year and the No. 1 pick in the WNBA league. Her announcement that she was a lesbian was largely greeted with shrugs.
It would show a sign of maturity in male sports if Collins’ disclosure was treated the same way. But he likely faces an unpleasant season of fan abuse and locker-room snickering.
However, if the heckling gets too much, it helps to be a guy who is 7 feet tall and weighs 255 pounds who twice led the league in fouls. Collins is a journeyman center who has toiled, usually anonymously, for seven teams, most recently the Washington Wizards.
Almost on cue, some big names rallied around him — such as L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant; NBA Commissioner David Stern; Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., a former Stanford college roommate; former President Bill Clinton; and President Barack Obama, who after his press conference Tuesday returned to the podium to say something about Collins, whom he had earlier congratulated: “He seems like a terrific young man. And I told him I couldn’t be prouder of him.”
Collins seems to be part of an accelerating social continuum: the growing number of anti-discrimination laws; the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military; the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage.
On Monday, after his story appeared on the Web, Collins wrote on Twitter: “All the support I have received today is truly inspirational. I knew that I was choosing the road less travelled but I’m not walking it alone.”
Collins, a free agent, wants to play another year or so in the NBA. Here’s hoping there’s a coach out there with the guts to take a chance on him. The man is 34, after all.
Dale McFeatters writes for the Scripps Howard News Service.