Jason Collins and Sports Brave New World

 

Jason Collins said in an interview published this week in Sports Illustrated that he is “a 34-year-old National Basketball Association (NBA) center” and added that “I’m black and I am gay,” which set off an enormous shock in the last bastion of the good old boys club—the sports industry.

Collins has become a pioneer of sorts as he is the first active player in a United States team sport entity to make such a proclamation. In one sense, it is refreshing to hear that Collins is comfortable enough to make such an announcement, but in another sense it is sad. Why should someone face what undoubtedly will be verbal abuse because of their sexual orientation? Why should anybody really care?

Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, is the first active male athlete in a major American team sport to come out as gay.

Collins has had a long career and is nearing the end of what would be a normal 13-year career. He is a free agent, a player without a contract at the moment for the 2013-14 season and apparently he would like to continue playing. At his age, he might be finished as a player. He is looking for a job like any other player who at 34 feels he might have some skills and abilities left to win a spot on an NBA roster as an older player.

But, Collins is no longer a “normal” player, which is a sad statement on the mentality of people who should not care about these things. People like ESPN’s Chris Broussard, who disqualified himself as a neutral observer reporting on basketball by blasting Collins’ announcement because as a Christian, do not agree with homosexuality.

What ESPN does with Broussard is up to the “family friendly” Walt Disney Company, an organization that may not be as “family friendly” as it might appear. But, Broussard is strictly a minor player and a lost voice in the media carnival barkers’ wilderness. The real test for just how enlightened the NBA thinks it is would be tested if Jason Collins had his contract assigned to the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball franchise. Since Collins will be a free agent, he will not be traded to Oklahoma City, but would Oklahoma City be interested in Collins who can deal with any of the 30 NBA teams?

That might be the ultimate test in the NBA’s embracement of Collins, an openly gay player.

Oklahoma City Thunder minority owner Aubrey McClendon funded an anti-gay groups including Gary Bauer’s Americans United to Preserve Marriage. Another Oklahoma City owner Tom Ward also contributed to anti-gay political groups. That was McClendon’s right along with Ward. They can contribute all the money they want to hate groups. But, contrast their beliefs with former player Tim Hardaway and NBA Commissioner David Stern’s actions back in 2007 and you might get a more complete picture of just how complicated Collins’ new world just might be.

The NBA Commissioner Stern handled McClendon’s and Ward’s political agenda with kid gloves when compared with his actions with Hardaway.

Stern did nothing.

There could be a reason for that. McClendon and Ward were and are part of the group who are Stern’s bosses, and a commissioner has to answer to others. Haradway was merely a former player.

During an interview on Dan LeBatard’s Miami radio show on February 14, 2007 concerning the recent coming out of former NBA player John Amaechi, Hardaway eventually said ” Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.” He also said that if he found out he had one or more gay teammates, he would try to get them fired.”

Hardaway was long retired by that point and was an NBA legend. He was supposed to be honored at the league’s All Star Game Weekend festivities a few days after the interview. The NBA banned him from appearing and Hardaway lost his job with the Continental Basketball Association’s Anderson, Indiana team. The CBA threw him under the bus.

Stern did fine McClendon, but it had nothing to do with his politics. Stern was offended that McClendon told an Oklahoma City newspaper that Clayton Bennett and his partners, one of who was McClendon, bought the Seattle SuperSonics with the hope of moving the team to Oklahoma City. In August 2007, Stern levied a $250,000 fine against McClendon for speaking the truth.

Hardaway has spent the last six years trying to rebuild his name and his reputation after the LeBatard interview. He has become a gay rights activist.

Stern’s NBA of 2013 does have one openly gay executive, the Golden State Warriors, a team based in the San Francisco Bay Area, President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Welts.

Stern did issue a statement in support for Collins. “Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.”

Other NBA players have also made announcements supporting Collins’ decision. The sports world is slowly coming to a public realization that the good old boys club and homophobic thinking cannot continue. The National Hockey League (NHL) earlier this month entered into a partnership with a gay advocacy group.

“Our motto is ‘Hockey Is For Everyone,’ and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman after the April 11 alliance was announced. “While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, we are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players’ Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands.”

Collins is not the only gay player in Major League Baseball, the National Football League (NFL) , the NBA, the NHL, Major League Soccer, the tennis tour (although a few tennis players, including Martina Navratilova, have made their sexual orientations known), the golf tour and college sports. It is just very few have made an announcement about their lifestyle.

Collins will face taunts if he is able to land another contract from “fans” who are encouraged to act uncivilized in the confines of an arena or stadium and teammates or opposing players. The NFL’s San Francisco 49ers Chris Culliver said during this year’s Super Bowl build up week that he didn’t want a gay teammate. He would apologize for his statement, during Super Bowl week; the last thing the NFL wants is someone to talk about disliking someone’s sexual orientation. Culliver was sent to sensitivity class.

Sports organizations think of themselves as an entertainment arm and that games are the ultimate “reality” TV show (although reality TV is fixed and those shows like American idol have a disclaimer in the credits which basically says the show producers have the ultimate say in who wins the so-called “competitions” not the show’s viewers). The entertainment industry, whether it is film, TV or music has openly embraced gay and lesbian performers. That may be a problem in sports with not only the “fans” but certain owners like those in Oklahoma City.

Evan Weiner’s e-books, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at www.bickley.com and Amazon.com and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century and Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA are available at www.smashwords.com, iTunes, nook, kobo, Sony reader and Diesel.

 

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