Collins Isn't Jackie, He's Frank

By: Jeremiah Short, Feature Writer

Who would become the first to come out? We’ve all wanted the answer to that question. When would that day come? No one knew. Well, that day finally came.

In the May 6th issue of Sports Illustrated, Jason Collins, who played last season for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, penned an essay where he revealed that he was a gay man. The first in one of the four major pro sports.

The first line of the essay reads: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

The powerful words reverberated throughout the sports world. The NBA’s Commissioner David Stern swiftly issued a statement on Collins revelation.

“As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family. Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue,” Stern said.

The support continued to pour in for the 12-year NBA veteran. President Barack Obama told him that he was “impressed by his courage.” Former President Bill Clinton said he was “proud to call him a friend.”

And Kobe Bryant, who once got suspended for using a homophobic slur, lent his support, tweeting: “Proud of @jasoncollins34, Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU.”

Collins gained 10,000 followers on twitter within an hour. Coming out as a gay athlete has made him a modern day trailblazer.

But is he really a trailblazer?

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J.Short, this is your conscience. Don’t say what I think you’re about to say.

Well, I’m about to say it. I hate to point out the elephant in the room. But it has to be said. Jason Collins is not a star. He’s not a relevant enough player for people to be making his status as gay athlete this big a deal. I’m glad that someone finally came out. It’s amazing that there was a black president before a gay male athlete, but I’m not going to sensationalize the story like every news outlet is about to do over the next few weeks.

That’s a little harsh.

It may be harsh. But it’s the truth.

I know people will want to compare Collins to Jackie Robinson, but he’s no Jackie.

Why? Jackie had no choice but to deal with the scrutiny that would come his way. He was a première baseball player–a key contributor. He wasn’t a pinch-hitter or platoon player.

Robinson had to withstand the racial slurs and heckling from opposing fans on a game-by-game basis.

In Collins case, he’s a back-up, journeyman center who we won’t be force to talk about on a daily basis. Fans that come to games won’t automatically know that he’s gay.

Robinson couldn’t hide who he was. That magical skin bleaching cream popularized by Michael Jackson hadn’t been created yet, either.

I’m not saying that everyone will agree with Collins. Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace has already proven that.

“All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH…,” Wallace tweeted after Collins story was posted on the Sports Illustrated website.

After some reflection/NFL strong arming, though, Wallace deleted and apologized for his comments. “Never said anything was right or wrong I just said I don’t understand!! Deeply sorry for anyone that I offended.”

I don’t think anyone was apologizing to Robinson.

But Collins may not get another chance in the NBA because of his sexuality.

Say who? Collins’ sexuality increases, not decreases, his chance of playing in the NBA next season.

I say this for two reasons.

1. The NBA doesn’t want to look homophobic. Stern may not force a team to sign Collins, but he may strongly suggest that someone puts him on their roster. There are a lot of scrubs on NBA rosters. Why not sign one that improves the league’s image?

2. Sports leagues never want to miss a chance to expand their client base. The NBA is positioned to be the first major sports league with an openly gay player. The financial boom they will get from publicity and endorsements will be worth signing Collins alone.

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If Collins isn’t Jackie, who is he then?

He’s Frank Ocean.

When Ocean came out as a gay man last July, many thought it would wreck his career. No way a gay man could sell records as a hip-hop artist. A genre catered to African-Americans. One of the most homophobic ethnicities in the United States.

But it had the opposite effect. His first solo album Channel Orange has sold over 500,000 copies, and he was nominated for five Grammy awards.

Collins status as a gay man will have a similar effect.

Collins coming out won’t make him more money as a basketball player. But he will make money off the court.

Experts have stated that Collins could command 10,000 to 50,000 dollars per engagement as a motivational speaker. And everyone knows the book is coming.

Collins has a marketable profile. He’s articulate, likable and Stanford educated with political connections.

What else could you ask for? Gay or Straight.

His status as an openly gay athlete does still have a societal impact, right?

Of course it does. Collins admission will open the door for other gay athletes to feel comfortable revealing their sexuality. And it’s another important step in the ever-changing cultural landscape.

The world is changing. There’s no reason that the sports world can’t change with it.

Jason Collins is the first. Who will be second?

We may get that answer sooner than expected.

If you would like to contact me, follow me on twitter @DaRealJShort or e-mail me at

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