By Nir Z.
Earlier today Jason Collins came out as the first openly gay player of the North American “Big 4” sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL). While other retired athletes have come out in the past few years, he is the first of those 4 major North American leagues to come out while still playing. Unless you’re a devoted NBA fan, Jason Collins’ name probably meant nothing to you before today. He’s not Kobe Bryant. He’s not LeBron James. He’s most certainly not Michael Jordan. He’s Jason Collins – a journeyman center who’s career can only be defined as “serviceable” (at best) to this point. For years now he’s toiled in relative obscurity – a player many hardcore NBA fans forgot was even still in the league. Until today.
This is a major turning point in the LGBT movement's struggle to gain widespread societal acceptance, much in the same way that Jackie's breakthrough was for the black community 60 years ago. This WILL lead to more athletes coming out in ALL the major sports over the next 5 years, and in 10 years time it won't even be major news anymore, just as it's not major news that a black player is black. Sure, they'll still face ridicule and criticism from bigots like black players still experience even to this day, but their supporters will vastly outnumber their detractors, just like we see with today’s black players.
An interesting factor that is worth examining is the role social media played in Collins making this decision. If a player came out even 10 years ago, their support would've consisted of mainly just family and close friends – assuming any of them would even provide support. Their teammates would've tormented them to no end, likely to the point where they would have to eventually retire and not be able to make a living off doing something they've worked their entire life for. They would be coming out of a closet to walk into a room that the devil himself wouldn't want to live in. These days, their support is family, close friends, and an ENTIRE ARMY of instantly accessible supporters around the world that are showing their support through Twitter, Facebook, etc. They're now walking into a bright, sunny room - one still filled with a lot of evil, but one that is at least habitable.
On the other side of that coin, the social effect has become so powerful now that even those athletes themselves that would've tormented a gay player in the past will be afraid to torment him due to the public lashing they'll have to face. NO guy in the league right now wants his face splattered on ESPN.com with the headline "David Stern fines Player X $50,000 for calling Gay Player X a homophobic slur." They'll get absolutely smoked on social media and they will be the ones that get tormented now, to the point that it'll likely have a big impact on their ultimate earning power over the course of their career. And if there are players out there that haven't realized the backlash this will cause then their agents, managers and handlers will make absolutely sure they do know about it.
The only proof of this that's needed is Kobe Bryant's response to this news: “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others.” This is a perfect example of a guy that absolutely OWNS that locker room, and if there are any players ridiculing a player for being gay, Kobe will put an end to that immediately, and if it gets bad enough Kobe will make sure they get traded.
This is a seismic change in our society and an amazing sight to behold.
Here is a list of NBA players that have already come out in support of Jason Collins on Twitter:
Nick Van Exel
These players deserve our support. They’re all the Branch Rickeys of our generation.