Coming Out on the Court

Pro basketball player Jason Collins is gay. On the one hand, big whoop. There are in fact a lot of tall, gay black men walking around, and the world still turns without incident. But Collins is by all accounts the first active NBA athlete to come out, and that’s something.

In the world of professional sports with its testosterone-laden, high-stakes pressures and buff, bare locker rooms, this type of confession is likely a bit more perilous if you’re still playing. At least, I would assume so. Homophobia is common enough in sports that revealing this type of personal information could cause a lot of problems for an athlete, even within his own team.

That’s likely why the few pro athletes who have come out, like John Amaechi, who retired from the NBA in 2004 and came out in 2007, did so after their playing days were over. Of course, Collins is 34, which is at the end of a career in basketball years, and he’s a free agent. So, it’s up in the air whether another team will pick him up. The cynic in me thinks this is a good move. Collins has at least ensured himself a series of high-price speaking gigs if his basketball career ends.

On the other hand, it is a big deal. It shouldn’t be, but it is. This player is still on the court and in the locker room, and he revealed a controversial secret that comes in the same month as both the NHL and NFL launched initiatives to fight homophobia in sports.

I’m likely not sports savvy enough to appreciate all of the nuances that go along with this announcement, but it will be interesting to see how things play out for Collins in the future. He has some straight allies who have expressed their support — his twin brother Jarron, for instance, who is straight and also an NBA player. But the weeks ahead will show just how welcoming the environment and culture are in the NBA for those who are gay.

My co-worker Frank said it best. If someone in my office came out and said, I’m gay, it wouldn’t be a big deal. That person’s sexual preferences have nothing to do with me editing and writing and working with contributors, but the NBA is a different animal. There’s the locker room and the fact that these players live and travel together. It’s more personal, more in-your-face — at least, it could be. We’ll see.

What will be even more interesting than seeing what happens to Collins is the day when a player announces he or she is gay, and people say, “So what? I’m not your lover, why are you telling me?”