Hours after his signing was made official, Collins logged just over 10 minutes in Brooklyn's win over the Los Angeles Lakers, becoming the first "openly gay athlete to play in one of America's four major sports," per Yahoo! Sports' Marc. J. Spears.
Before the game, Spears asked Bryant about the significance of Collins' barrier-breaking accomplishment and what it will potentially mean, to which Bryant offered a thoughtful answer that challenged the current context of Collins' signing.
"His impact [Sunday night] is greater than what people think," Bryant said. "You look at it from the context of having the first openly gay player. But they missed the domino effect that it has way beyond sports."
What might that "domino effect" be?
It's fantastic. It sets an incredible precedent. I think the most important part about it, what I've learned on the issue is that one person coming out is showing this type of courage that gives others that same type of courage.
It's dealing with a lot of issues for kids who are afraid to be themselves. Afraid to be themselves because of the peer pressure that comes with it. A lot of these kids have depression issues or they're being teased from other kids for being different. You wind up seeing a lot of suicides, kids injuring themselves and getting hooked on things that they should not be hooked on.
The strong take Bryant provides is nothing new.
When Collins came out last April, Bryant was one of many players who took to Twitter in support of his decision:
While many have decided to analyze what Collins' employment will mean in the professional sports context, Bryant has focused on a bigger picture all along.
Collins' ability to land a job could have a domino effect across sports, specifically in the NBA, where players and coaches can be characterized as accepting and supportive of his decision. Maybe his presence in Brooklyn will inspire other athletes in similar situations to be more open about their sexuality.
But Bryant is also correct that Collins may have a bigger impact off the court, where anyone—not just athletes—living in fear or secrecy could see him as the ultimate role model.
As Bryant told Spears:
"There is a kid out there who … is going to say, 'Jason gave me strength in dark moments to be brave. He gave me courage to step up and accept myself for who I am despite what others might be saying or the public pressures. He gave me strength and bravery to be myself.'"
Issues this sensitive and unprecedented always have some sort of ripple effect, good or bad. Early returns on Collins' groundbreaking achievement suggest that the NBA, and perhaps all professional sports, will be better off for the opportunity he has received and the new standard in place.
The type of impact Collins has off the court remains to be seen, and it will likely take some time before we know what corollaries can be drawn between him and the cultural responses he generates outside basketball.
"He is a basketball player given a basketball opportunity," Jarron Collins said about his brother, via Spears.
For now, the focus is on Collins, the history-making basketball player who has changed professional sports forever.
Soon enough, Bryant and those like him believe the focus will be on Collins, the role model who made a lasting impact on lives inside and outside sports.
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