Skip to main content

Jason Collins came out; NBA should let him play

By Jeff Pearlman, Special to CNN
October 17, 2013 -- Updated 1220 GMT (2020 HKT)
Jason Collins, who played with the NBA's Washington Wizards this season, has disclosed that he is gay, making him the first active openly homosexual athlete in the four major American pro team sports. Collins (No. 33) played college ball for Stanford, here against Maryland in 1998. He has been in the NBA for 12 seasons. Jason Collins, who played with the NBA's Washington Wizards this season, has disclosed that he is gay, making him the first active openly homosexual athlete in the four major American pro team sports. Collins (No. 33) played college ball for Stanford, here against Maryland in 1998. He has been in the NBA for 12 seasons.
HIDE CAPTION
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
Jason Collins' NBA career
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jeff Pearlman: NBA player Jason Collins came out in April and his move drew support
  • Collins has yet to be signed; where did all that support go?
  • He grants Collins' game is off, but lesser players have been invited to training camp
  • Pearlman: NBA missing chance to give Collins' courageous move the conclusion it deserves

Editor's note: Jeff Pearlman blogs at jeffpearlman.com. His most recent book is "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton." Follow him on twitter @jeffpearlman.

(CNN) -- It was merely a dream, wasn't it?

That whole Jason Collins thing of six months ago -- never happened, right? The headline news of his becoming the first openly gay active male professional athlete in a team sport. The Sports Illustrated cover. The supportive tweets from everyone ranging from Barack Obama and Bill Clinton to Jason Kidd and LeBron James. The interviews. The raves ("Game-changing!"). The altered landscape.

Remember when The Guardian newspaper called Collins' emergence significant for LGBT acceptance ... "as professional sports had long been seen as the final frontier"?

Remember when the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network presented Collins with its courage award? Remember when the veteran NBA center was being likened to Jackie Robinson?

Jeff Pearlman
Jeff Pearlman

Well, eh, forget it. Forget the whole thing.

As you read this, Collins is likely sitting somewhere inside his California home, twiddling his thumbs, watching reality TV, waiting, hoping, waiting, hoping, waiting, hoping for the groundbreaking opportunity that looks, increasingly, unlikely to occur. Put differently: For one to actually become the first openly gay active male professional athlete in a team sport, one must be an openly gay active male professional athlete playing a team sport.

And Collins ain't playing squat.

With the NBA opening in less than two weeks, it has become clear that the league's 30 teams have no interest in Collins, a 34-year-old journeyman. From a purely basketball standpoint, this is understandable: Once a valuable role player on a New Jersey Nets team that reached back to back NBA Championship series in the early 2000s, Collins is a shell of his former self.

Playing with Boston and Washington last season, he averaged but 1.1 points and 1.6 rebounds in 38 games. He is -- to be blunt -- a slow, nonathletic player with creaky joints and no offensive repertoire of which to speak. Were this any other similarly submediocre player in any other sport, his departure would register nary a blip on the radar. He would vanish, and life would move on.

Costas: Collins is 'the perfect guy'
Collins: I'm the happiest I've ever been
'We planned our lives together'

Jason Collins, however, ceased being ordinary the moment he announced he was gay.

To thousands upon thousands of Americans, he became a beacon of hope and a sign that maybe sexuality would matter not the in machismo-stuffed world of professional sports. If LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul could embrace a gay man as a teammate, what excuse would the loudmouth, homophobic blockhead at the construction site or law firm have for his close-mindedness?

Finally, things were about to change.

Only they weren't because, well, nobody called. The NBA has been repeatedly defended in its inaction with predictable attacks on Collins' game -- too slow, too marginal, too worthless. Yet could somebody (anybody?) have at least invited him to training camp -- land of myriad oafs and fringe players itching to land a job?

Hell, the Los Angeles Lakers' preseason roster included Dan Gadzuric and Eric Boateng, two men with limited skill sets and without Collins' great teammate/dogged worker resume. Hell, the Atlanta Hawks briefly employed David Lighty, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard with no redeeming NBA attributes. Hell, the New York Knicks, according to NBC Sports' D.J. Foster, "have basically worked out everyone who has ever touched a basketball this offseason." Everyone save Collins.

This isn't a hard one to figure out.

As the late Branch Rickey of baseball fame repeatedly pointed out, change within the sports landscape doesn't come easily.

Just as members of the Brooklyn Dodgers were loathe to share locker space with Robinson in the summer of 1947, many NBA players (whether they admit it publicly or not) were likely not thrilled by the idea of showering alongside a gay man even if they'd been showering alongside said gay man for more than a decade.

Adding Collins to a roster -- even a preseason roster -- would likely have meant awkwardness, confusion and weirdness.

There almost inevitably would have been conservative Christian teammates asking to change in a designated private space. Special press conferences would need to be arranged.

Gay rights groups would flock to the arena -- and they'd be loud. And what of the slurs that fly across courts during practice with staggering regularity, and without much thought? What would happen the first time a Clipper or Piston or Spur uttered the word "f****t," even if it were not directed at Collins?

Could all this trouble (and it would, inevitably, be trouble) be worth it for at best a seldom-used 12th man?

Answer: Absolutely.

Opportunities like this don't happen often, and the NBA -- arguably the most progressive of the four major American team sports -- is failing miserably.

Where is Kidd, the Nets' new coach and former Collins' teammate, with a camp invite? Where is Mark Cuban, the forward-thinking Dallas Mavericks owner, with a pen and a contract? Where are the Golden State Warriors, the team whose arena is 18 miles from the spot where Harvey Milk was murdered? Where are the Lakers, a franchise desperately in need in grit and toughness? Where are the Miami Heat, whose bench could use a bruiser of Collins' ilk?

How in the world could no one think to add Collins to a roster, if only to give his courageous first step the conclusion it deserves?

How are we letting this one slip away?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeff Pearlman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2248 GMT (0648 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2049 GMT (0449 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT