It’s been fun reading the qualifiers and questions about Jason Collins’ place in history this morning, after the NBA player came out of the closet.
And boy, what a closet he was in. Even his twin brother didn’t know he was gay.
“So much for twin telepathy,” wrote Collins, 34, in a long, poignant Sports Illustrated essay about the “unbearable strain” of being a closeted professional athlete. He chose the number 98 as a private homage to gay rights icon Matthew Shepard, tortured and murdered in Wyoming in 1998.
Collins, who played most recently for the Celtics and the Wizards, is not the first athlete to come out. (Here's a list of those who came out in 2012 alone.)
But he now owns a particular and important distinction.
As Sports Illustrated put it: “Today Collins becomes the first active male athlete in a major U.S. team sport to come out of the closet. Yes, that’s a lot of qualifiers. Yes, it may be an artificial construct. But it is a milestone. Tens of thousands of men have played in the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. Until today none had expressed his homosexuality before retirement.”
As expressions of support poured in from big names in sports, politics and entertainment (scroll through this story to get a sense of the emotion uncorked by Collins’ announcement), what stuck out for me was the cranky underreaction of one of the country’s top sports radio personalities, Mike Francesca.
“We all realize that there are plenty of gay people in America; you gotta figure some of 'em are playing sports,” Francesca said. “I really don’t care. It means less than nothing to me that there is a gay player now out in the the NBA.”
Francesca’s blasé reaction – why get all worked up about something so totally normal? – is as refreshing as it is tone deaf to history.
While many believe that Collins, a free agent, has taken a big risk coming out while trying to find a new team, Francesca had a more skeptical take, implying that coming out was a kind of insurance policy. If Collins isn’t picked up, Francesca warned, “it will be considered that he’s been run out of the league.”
I doubt that.
New York Times statistician Nate Silver found when he analyzed Collins’ chances by comparing him to similar players that the odds he will be signed are “slightly” in his favor.
At this particular moment in the battle for gay civil rights, I think the first out NBA player would be a marketing boon for any team.
Slain 8-year-old girl stabbed multiple times, coroner says
Openly gay athlete Jason Collins is what 'we've all been waiting for'
Woman convicted of torture, mayhem for severing husband's penis
More from Robin Abcarian