Sunday, September 22, 2013

Jason Collins

The back page of Sports Illustrated used to be my favorite part of the magazine.  Rick Reilly would write editorials that made you cry, think or laugh (sometimes all at the same time).  Since Reilly left for ESPN the back page has been largely unforgettable.  Various sportswriters take turns at the back page now with varying levels of success. Sometimes there is a Reilly-esque piece but just as often there is a piece that doesn't hold my interest.  I'm happy to say that this week was one of the better ones.  

In the September 16 issue of Sports Illustrated Phil Taylor wrote about Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player.  His argument is that people said they supported Collins in May when he first came out don't really support him because no one has added them to their team.  My first instinct was to disagree with him. If Collins wasn't talented enough or didn't fit a vital role on a team why would a GM waste the $1.4M veteran minimum on him?  Collins is not a superstar.  He is an average player that will come off the bench and score a few points a game.  Not exactly someone to build your team around.  

But then Phil Taylor brings up other average players that have been given contracts, specifically Juwan Howard and Marcus Camby, despite their lack of production.  These players were given contracts because they were chasing a ring, because people liked them or because of the leadership that they could provide off the court.  Every year some veteran retires after the NBA finals that I didn't even realize was still in the league. This veteran has finally made it to the finals and is ready to hang it up.  The player didn't play a significant roll in the team's success.  This player is way past his prime or his prime wasn't good enough to turn him into a household name.  Yet this player's resume is now complete and he can ride off into the sunset feeling like a champion.

So why not Jason Collins?  Why not spend $1.4M to prove gay men and straight men can co-exist in a locker room and on the court?  Why not show young gay kids that there are no obstacles to their dreams? Why not show some closeted homophobic players that there is nothing to be afraid of?  That Collins isn't going to hit on them or turn them gay just by being there.  That Collins is a man and an athlete before anything else and that his sexuality doesn't make him less of either.  

I hope that Taylor's piece makes one GM go for it.  It would be a step in the right direction for the sports world and for society as a whole.  No matter what Collins or other gay athletes do on the court there will always be people who assume they are softer, weaker, less than non-gay athletes.  But, much like the black quarterback argument, at least they will be in the conversation and given a chance to prove people wrong.