Within 24 hours Jason Collins has gone from a journeyman NBA center to a household name.
Collins, who came out in a Sports Illustrated piece, is the first openly gay pro athlete in American history. “He really hadn’t confronted this until he was 33 years old,” says Jon Wertheim, the Sports Illustrated executive director who was in the room when Collins broke the story to SI reporters. “When we were there Wednesday, he was funny, charming, thoughtful. He was not nervous. There was no apprehension. He was ready to go. He was pretty firm in this. This was unprecedented but he was ready to deal with whatever fallout there was going to be good or bad.”
For the most part Collins has received tremendous support throughout the country. Dozens of NBA players have sent messages to Collins through social media. “The majority of players will rally around him. When you’re on a team, you’re bonding with those guys. During the season we see each other more than we see our own families. So you get to know guys pretty well,” Chris Kluwe a punter for the Minnesota Vikings and a gay rights advocate said. “I think for the most part, a gay player would be accepted. I think the real thing is whether or not coaches and management are able to accept and look past the whole distraction issue. I would say that in Jason’s own words, he felt like he ‘was baking in an oven’ for 33 years. Imagine how much better he could have played if he didn’t have to worry about hiding a core part of who he is.”
The support doesn’t stop with the sports world. From the current White House to President Clinton and his daughter both tweeting their support for Collins, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. This should be no surprise; according to a recent NBC News, Wall Street Journal poll, 53% of the country supports gay marriage.
It has been a remarkable 12 months for gay rights advocates. As First Read points out, over the past year we have seen Vice President Biden (and then President Obama) announce that they are comfortable with gay marriage, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Prop 8 and DOMA, Rhode Island is on track to become the 10th state to approve gay marriage, and now Jason Collins. “I think sports, and the NBA in particular, are a lot more progressive than people think. I think this is largely a generational issue and I think there are a lot of athletes that are straight and have no issue with this,” Wertheim said.
So will other male sports athlete come out? “It is a very brave thing to do no matter what sport you play,” Kluwe said. “That being that, I think a lot of gay athletes are probably going to be watching what happens with Jason.”