What Jason Collins did on Monday was nothing short of spectacular. He didn’t make a buzzer-beater shot or dunk someone into the floor; he didn’t even touch the floor of an NBA court. On Monday, Washington Wizards center Jason Collins came out as a proud homosexual. In doing so, he became the first active professional athlete in the big four American sports leagues to come out.
A small handful of athletes have come out after their careers ended. These athletes feared what might have happened if they came out as active professionals, as there is evidence to support that the leagues are homophobic. For example, ESPN reported that NFL General Managers asked draft prospects whether they “like girls.”
Collins said that he waited so long because he didn’t want to be a distraction for his teammates. He was right. The press has already gone crazy over this, and rightfully so. It’s a big step for gay rights.
But what’s next for gay athletes? And Jason Collins?
Jason Collins will enter free agency. It will be monumental if a team signs him. He’s not a scorer, but he can provide depth on defense as a seven-footer. If a team doesn’t sign him, then Collins, as the first openly gay pro athlete, may be spoiled a bit, and he won’t play a game or have teammates as an openly gay player.
And it makes a difference. It shouldn’t, but it does.
His presence as a quiet but hard fouling force in the paint will help Americans forget that he’s gay and remember that he’s just another basketball player. He’s no different than the rest on the court. While it’s important for Collins to make headlines now and perhaps in the next few years to come, his coming out will begin to allow gay players not to make headlines in the future, but for gay players in pro sports to become commonplace.
On the other hand, if Collins wants to be a visible gay icon, he’ll have the opportunity. He will get offers for endorsements if he makes another team. Nike has stated that they are eager to sponsor the first openly gay player, and they will not be the only company to make an offer. A man who has averaged six points or less in his entire career could make significantly more money through endorsements than through his contract.
Collins’ career will not be defined by his stats, though. Rather, his career will be defined by his number, 98, which was in honor of Matthew Shepard, a gay teenager, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1998. It will be defined by the graceful manner by which he has handled coming out. It will be defined by his homosexuality.
He will be an inspiration to the thousand young aspiring athletes in the coming years, gay or not.