Monday, April 29, 2013

Jason Collins raises his hand

Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Collins
Peter Foley/EPA
For the past few years the world has been waiting. Waiting on one person to raise their hand for gays in the world of sports. Just weeks ago, number one overall WNBA draft pick Brittney Griner announced that she was gay. The news to some, was swept under the rug, and received little national media attention. Perhaps because not many were shocked at Griner's coming out, or perhaps many deem the WNBA and women's basketball to be somewhat irrelevant. Whatever the case is, Griner blazed the trail for pro women athletes everywhere as an active WNBA player that is gay. Still, the sports world waited on a male to do so, on a bigger stage, in a bigger, more recognized sport.

In the midst of the NBA playoffs, one player has done just that. His team however missed the playoffs by about 10 games. The team he plays for? The Washington Wizards. The man that may be deemed as "the gay people's Jackie Robinson"?

34-year-old, veteran center, Jason Collins.

In a story that came out today, and is to be featured in the May 6, 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated, Collins says this:
I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.
The sports world waited, and waited, and waited. And the gay-lesbian community waited, and waited, and waited. And now, finally, one man has raised his hand and said, "I'm gay."

Some writers, bloggers, analysts, and critics will deem Collins' coming out also as irrelevant because, well, he's not the superstar player that everyone hoped to be the first out-pro athlete. He's past what prime he had, he's been a serviceable big man off the bench for the majority of his career, but he's no all-star. The fact is, beggars can't be choosers, and Jason Collins is the first gay athlete to come out while still playing. People will try and make this to be no big deal, but the other fact is, is that it is a big deal.

Many other athletes before Collins have come out, but no man has ever done it while actively playing pro, and next year could get very interesting for the veteran center depending on the type of the adversity he faces. He was on a one year deal with the Boston Celtics this season when, midway through, he and Leandro Barbosa's expiring contracts were traded to the Wizards for shooting guard Jordan Crawford.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
So now, he's a free agent, in both senses of the word. Will any NBA team even sign the aging big man? This past season Collins played in just 38 games and averaged 1.6 rebounds and 1.1 points per game. Those numbers don't fly off the screen by any means. Perhaps though a lot of what Collins does doesn't show up on the stat sheet, as he has always been known for a defensive big, being able to post-up and box-out well and being able to occasionally neutralize defenders on the block. Collins says he still wants to play, the question now is, will anyone give him that chance? Will an NBA GM be the Branch Rickey to Collins' Jackie Robinson? NBA free agency is quickly approaching, so only time will tell.

But, when Collins does get signed, what happens when he goes to post up on an opposing player and one body part touches with another? What happens if an opposing player freaks out and shouts out a gay slur or throws a punch? This will be something that NBA refs will have to get a hold of right away because soon, Collins won't be the only guy in the NBA who is gay. Change is coming, more will follow him and this will be something that players and refs will have to deal with inside the game of basketball. The commissioner and the refs will have to make it clear from day one that no homophobic actions or name calling will be tolerated.

What this situation can be related to for NBA fans and sports fans alike, is what happened with Magic Johnson when he announced that he had AIDS and tried to come back and play. Some players like Karl Malone didn't want to be on the floor with Magic or play with him because Malone couldn't play as physical as he wanted to for fear that he may catch something from Magic. At the time, Malone, NBA players, and Americans alike were uneducated about the AIDS virus and we know now how the disease can be transmitted, playing basketball was not one of them.

Time will only tell us how this all plays out, and Jason has already received much support in the NBA community from his twin brother Jarron, point guard Baron Davis, Hall of Fame player Isiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant, Commissioner David Stern, and even former President Bill Clinton. Even Nike, (who signed Brittney Griner to an endorsement deal) showed their support saying:
Jason is a Nike athlete. We are a company committed to diversity and inclusion.
The Washington Wizards also released a statement showing their support saying:
We are extremely proud of Jason & support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. 
With all the support Collins has already received, there is now little doubt in my mind that he wouldn't be able to find a team next season. Someone will sign Collins, and he will continue to play tough defense off the bench, and be a trail blazer for future gay pro-athletes to come. In closing, I encourage you to visit SI.com and read Jason's story, written by him.

Thanks for reading The Last Timeout. You can follow this blog with your Google account, email me at northam67@gmail.com, and/or follow me on Twitter @primetimeMitch.

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