Burning Questions That Remain Unanswered in Jason Collins Story
The dust hasn't yet settled after Jason Collins revealed Monday through a Sports Illustrated article that he is gay. But as the news cycle whirls to a slower spin, there are still burning questions that will linger until this offseason and, in some cases, next season.
As unpredictable as the announcement was—since he is the first active professional athlete in a major American sport to come out as a homosexual—it was also an inevitability.
The initial reaction to the news has been predominantly affirming and congratulatory. The social media outpouring is decidedly positive, and many journalists and players have also voiced support.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me thru email, texts, calls, tweets, letters, and every other form of communication. #support— Jason Collins (@jasoncollins34) April 29, 2013
Still, there are several questions that remain unanswered.
Will a team choose to sign Collins this offseason?
Collins was unemployed at the time of his announcement.
Jason Collins, a free agent, makes it clear: "I want is to continue to play basketball."— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) April 29, 2013
At 34 years old, he just concluded his 12th NBA season with a 10.1-minute average in 38 games, in which he tallied just 1.1 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.
As a veteran, he is known as a quality teammate and a defensive helper inside. However, he hasn’t been a consistent on-court presence in years.
Collins played seven seasons with the New Jersey Nets from 2001 through 2008, but he has since become a journeyman, playing with five different teams since 2008. He ended this regular season as a member of the Washington Wizards and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Most general managers operate with practicality when it comes to signing talent. Seven-footers with toughness, like Collins, are needed commodities, and even veterans in their 30s often find opportunities.
He would have been a little-noticed signee this summer, but now his potential signing comes with anticipation.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Jason Collins coming out would not be an issue if Heat looked at him as free agent:sulia.com/my_thoughts/a8…— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) April 30, 2013
CNN reporter Eliott C. McLaughlin quoted Washington Post reporter Michael Lee and contract specialist Von DuBose on the prospects of Collins' upcoming free agency.
McLaughlin wrote: “While most of the reaction to Collins' announcement has been positive, DuBose said it's possible his sexual orientation could affect his future, especially if an NBA general manager feels his team is too immature to handle the addition of the league's first openly gay player.”
The article added:
On the flip side of that equation, Lee and DuBose don't foresee a team picking up Collins because he's gay, as that would immediately devalue him among his teammates.
"I don't think people were tuning in to see Jason Collins play," DuBose said. "They may never see him play anyway. He's probably not going to get a ton of minutes."
Will Collins' openness be a distraction?
To deny that signing Collins will create a sideshow is avoiding the obvious. And that’s not an anti-Collins sentiment. It’s not Collins’ fault, nor is it the media’s.
It’s a sensitive story that will generate a buzz of non-basketball storylines. The locker room will have an added presence during media availability.
Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts, known as the highest ranking gay male in American sports, commented Monday on what Collins can expect in terms of extra attention:
Warriors president Rick Welts discusses Collins' announcement.
I think he probably knows what he signed up for. He is going to face a whole bunch more television cameras and reporters than he probably has over the course of the last couple of seasons. But clearly it's somebody who has given this a lot of thought, he's prepared for it, and it's what he signed up for.
How long that distraction endures may depend on what market Collins ends up in and how long the story has legs. If he signs early, the distraction could end in training camp.
But he’ll still endure what will become essentially a media tour in visiting cities. Teammates will eventually tire of being asked about it. Inescapably, a controversial quote will come from the mouth of a player, and the storm will begin again.
Media distractions aren’t uncommon in professional sports, but a general manager will likely take this under consideration.
How will fans react?
The scary thing about the general public is that it’s unfiltered and mostly without accountability.
It’s not far-fetched to think fans will be vocally abusive in arenas or through social media outlets. The voice of the masses always contains some venom, and Collins will face at least some form of animosity on the road and online.
But, as Welts pointed out, Collins is likely ready for potential backlash.
"The way he put it is he hopes for the best and is prepared for the worst. I don't think there is going to be much of the worst," Welts said.
Welts also said that he, surprisingly, faced no outward opposition toward him after he came out in a New York Times article in 2011.
How will an NBA locker room receive him?
The NBA locker room is comprised of 12 players, all of whom have various opinions and levels of understanding on homosexuality.
There has yet to be an NBA player who has, at least publicly, vocalized a negative reaction to the news of Collins’ announced sexuality. The other stigma surrounding the subject is placed on those opposing homosexuality; players wouldn’t have said anything even if they disagreed with his announcement.
But that doesn’t mean there aren't dissenting viewpoints.
The reception that Jason Collins gets from the media, and what he gets in the locker room may not be the same thing.— Kelly Scaletta (@KellyScaletta) April 29, 2013
Ignorance can never be understated, and it’s probable that there will be players who aren’t fully accepting of the first active player who is out regarding his sexuality.
But with a majority of support, both from players and the media, it is unlikely that any of that will even matter.
Will openness regarding sexuality become the norm in professional sports?
An active player coming out has long been in the making, and Collins’ announcement could be just the first of many.
At some point, locker rooms will have no choice but to adjust and acknowledge a trend that becomes more prevalent in the league.
It may be a process of education and understanding, and it’s a conversation that will happen now.
Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry addressed it Tuesday on The Dan Patrick Show:
You’d have to think about it, for sure... Just because you haven’t really crossed that situation before and now it’s in the open. You want everybody to be on the same page about it in the locker room so that there aren’t any underlying problems. I think it’s a conversation that everybody can have.
But as Curry also noted in the interview, it’s a conversation that hasn’t happened yet.
So much of the initial outpouring surrounding this story is truly just the first of what’s to come if Collins is signed. For now, though, the answers to these questions are still undetermined.
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