On April 29, 2013, Jason Collins announced to the world through Sports Illustrated that he was gay. The hope was that he would become the first active athlete in a major North American team sport to be open about it – a Jackie Robinson, of sorts, for the LGBT of America.
Today is October 9, 2013. We are 20 days away from NBA Opening Night. Jason Collins does not have a job.
There are various good reasons for why he is not on an NBA team, all that make sense and are perfectly fine. He is a marginal player at best. He is 34. His skill set does not fit the current NBA. If you are going to get a big man for rebounds and fouls, you are better off going young. And the list can go on.
But this is not an ordinary player filling those templates. The point is that Jason Collins shatters those standards by what he is.
And no NBA team may be ready for it.
It is the fear any player desiring to come out has felt in any sport. “What if I come out and I cannot find employment?”
Some might find this a thought of the past – we are in 2013 after all – but there is a very strong example in sports right now. Just being attached to the “stigma” of being gay has affected an NFL player.
He has only been alleged as gay, but Kerry Rhodes has yet to find a job this season. Only 30 years of age, graded out as Pro Football Focus‘ #4 safety in the NFL last season. Could the story of an angry (possible) ex-lover be affecting his employment situation? It seems like the only thing that is different now than 14 months ago when he headed into the 2012 season with the Arizona Cardinals.
Now he cannot find a job. Jason Collins is publicly out. Are they seeing the same discrimination?
While it would seem they are being wronged, and they are in some way, the cause of their employment, at least in Collins’ situation, may be a bit more innocent.
Less than the fact that they have to live, practice, socialize, and play with a gay player, what players and organizations may fear most is the extra media attention associated with any player with this back story and importance. When Jackie Robinson was brought to the Brooklyn, Branch Rickey knew of the storm that would hang over the Dodgers going forward. But he also knew he was bringing in a supreme (and ultimately Hall of Fame) talent.
The Jason Collinses and Kerry Rhodeses of the world are not as such.
Thus, the attention they bring, for a 13th, 14th, or 15th man on the bench, or even a starting safety, is not worth it for teams. For their contributions, an organization would have to allow for a microscope to be upon them at all times.
And think about what would happen if an NBA team dared to cut the first openly gay player?
So at the end of the day, NBA teams have to consider these things before signing Jason Collins. For all of the organizations at this point, they have shown it is not worth it.
But for one man it may be worth it.
Warriors president and COO, Rick Welts, is an openly gay NBA executive who understands and has probably lived through the hardships of being gay in sports. As the highest-ranking gay sports executive in America, he knows what an important moment it would be to have Jason Collins on the court.
This is probably why Golden State has been one of the few teams to actually show interest in Collins this off-season. Of course, for all the things that line up well, the one that does not is on the court, where the Warriors already have too many big men and do not have any space for another.
There have been a few other teams checking in (The New York Daily News reported the Knicks having interest), but no one has been a taker so far.
As great as the initial moment of Jason Collins coming out was, it will not be enough of a step forward for LGBT in sports if he does not get to step foot on an NBA court again. While it is a sacrifice to a team, quite possibly in many ways, the cultural impact is too much to waste.
We sit back and anticipate the NBA season – waiting for all its joys and sure entertainment – but it can mean more. All Jason Collins needs is one team to make the call, and a legacy and benchmark for tolerance can finally be created in one of North America’s major team sports.