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Unemployed Journeyman Becomes NBA’s First Openly Gay Player

jason-collins-gay-nba-journeyman

Jason Collins is gay. Who the hell is Jason Collins, you might ask?

I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.

I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.

My journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgement began in my hometown of Los Angeles and has taken me through two state high school championships, the NCAA Final Four and the Elite Eight, and nine playoffs in 12 NBA seasons.

I’ve played for six pro teams and have appeared in two NBA Finals. Ever heard of a parlor game called Three Degrees of Jason Collins? If you’re in the league, and I haven’t been your teammate, I surely have been one of your teammates’ teammates. Or one of your teammates’ teammates’ teammates.

Now I’m a free agent, literally and figuratively. I’ve reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.

The last several seasons, he’s averaged around 10 minutes and one point per game. If he doesn’t get picked up somewhere after the announcement, it’s likely not because he’s gay.

UPDATE: The tongue-in-cheek take here is a function of my not previously had Jason Collins on my radar, not a dismissal of the event. His lack of big-name status makes this less of a milestone than if a LeBron James had made the same announcement but it’s a milestone nonetheless.

I’ve written several posts over the years about athletes coming out and have noted that it has been increasingly greeted with “What’s the big deal”? That’s a good thing.  The major American team sports have been the last barrier, and football and basketball in particular are macho cultures. And, as Collins himself suggests in his opener, the domination of those sports by black men makes coming out even more difficult, given homophobic strains in parts of that subculture.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ben says:

    I know of him, since he played for my favorite team, the Celtics, and also because he and his twin brother are both NBA players, which is quite the rarity. But I certainly don’t expect casual basketball fans to know who he is. Still, this is progress. And progress is always good.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. ernieyeball says:

    Good for this guy!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Nikki says:

    It will also help that he is particularly handsome.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. giantslor says:

    Did you really originally title this “Unknown Journeyman…”? Um, he’s averaged 21 minutes per game over 713 games in a 12-year NBA career. I’m pretty sure lots of people know who he is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. James Joyner says:

    @giantslor: Average minutes per game isn’t a very good indicator in this case. In his 13 seasons, he’s started 60 games only 5 of them. Since 2007, he’s appeared in less than half his team’s games all but one year. He’s never made an All-Star team.

    In other words, only die-hard NBA fans or close followers of the teams he was on would have any idea who he is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  6. Armando says:

    @James Joyner:

    Strange aspect to focus on James.

    Collins was a journeyman all his career but that does not make this insignificant.

    Not sure why that is your focus.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. jony101 says:

    does he wear a earring? if he does there 50/50 gays in the NBA, only the white people dont wear earrings, so that rules out the whites. And a white guy would never out his self.
    So if he is proud of his gayness like obama, why dont we have a name? as far as this article is concern he is still in the closet. He ashame of his gayness? He need to be a “man” and admit he who he is? afraid his fellow teamates arent on the downlow?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  8. EddieInCA says:

    Very unfair.

    Jason Collins (and his twin brother, Jarron), played more than a decade each in the NBA. Any NBA fan knows who they are. Because you don’t, Dr. Joyner, doesn’t make them journeymen. By your definition, any NBA Player not a superstar is a journeyman.

    That’s just not fair.

    Why the vitriol?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Armando: I’m just noting that the guy’s not exactly a household name. This will have some impact but not the same as if even a middling all-star did it.

    @EddieInCA: Noting that he’s not a big name player isn’t vitriolic. A journeyman is someone who’s good enough to play for a long time—which is damn good, especially in the NBA, given the small rosters and low barrier to talent evaluation (everyone has played the game, vs. relatively few in football and other equipment-intensive sports)—but not good enough to start, much less star, most of their careers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  10. SoWhat says:

    ZZzzzzz

    Boring.

    However, if Kobe, LaBron or even Shaq or Michael Jordan came out, I’d be REALLY impressed.

    Does anyone with two brain cells to rub together really believe there are NO gay athletes?

    If so, you have never watched figure skating.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  11. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    Yeah…. Sure…

    2001-02 New Jersey Nets NBA $1,067,400
    2002-03 New Jersey Nets NBA $1,147,440
    2003-04 New Jersey Nets NBA $1,227,480
    2004-05 New Jersey Nets NBA $1,887,864
    2005-06 New Jersey Nets NBA $5,500,000
    2006-07 New Jersey Nets NBA $5,800,000
    2007-08 Memphis Grizzlies NBA $6,100,000
    2008-09 Minn Timberwolves NBA $6,200,000
    2009-10 Atlanta Hawks NBA $1,181,803
    2010-11 Atlanta Hawks NBA $1,352,181
    2011-12 Atlanta Hawks NBA $1,352,181
    Career (may be incomplete) $32,816,349

    I would argue, Dr. Joyner, that in a professional league such as the NBA, there are no true Journeymen – especially in the context to which you yourself link. There just aren’t enough jobs. Every player has a role, even if it’s just to be the practice player that everyone abuses (in the sporting sense).

    And i’m sure I’m not the only one that takes your entire post as somewhat odd, given your focus.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA: I’m not sure what your point is. There are 5 starters per team and 11 roster spots. Collins was a starter for five years and a backup the rest of his career. As I’ve already noted, being a journeyman NBA player still means you’re one of the best basketball players on the planet. But the guys who are there to get beat up in practice year after year are journeymen.

    And the average NBA salary is $5.15 million a year. He generated one slightly-above-average contact during his prime and then declined as a player. Which, again, is hardly rare. But it somewhat diminishes the news value of this.

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  13. SoWhat says:

    Even if he doesn’t have much of a future in basketball, it looks like a bunch of political leftwinger heavy-hitters (Joe Kennedy, Chelsea Clinton and her daddy, etc.) are running to his side.

    Collins could be the next Barney Frank!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  14. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    And the average NBA salary is $5.15 million a year. He generated one slightly-above-average contact during his prime and then declined as a player. Which, again, is hardly rare. But it somewhat diminishes the news value of this.

    True, but deceptive. The MEDIAN NBA Salary is about 2.5 million – about 1/2 the average NBA Salary. The “average” salary is skewed by the small number of players making $28 million (Kobe), $20 million (Dirk, Carmelo, Dwight, Pau, Joe Johnston), and $17 million (LeBron, D-Wade, C-Bosh, CP3, K-D, D-Will). These high salaries distort the “average’.

    If I have a $200,000 home in a neighborhood of 9 other $200,000 homes, and a guy suddenly buys and tears down one of the houses and puts up a $2 million McMansion, the average house price in the neighborhood just went up to $380,000. Is that true? Yes. Is it an honest reflection of the actual value of the homes in the neighborhood? Not at all.

    You are doing the same thing with Jason Collins – minimizing his value to his teams.

    And for the sake of making…. what point? That since he wasn’t LeBron of Kobe, his coming out isn’t worthy of any news value?

    I disagree.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  15. Ben says:

    @EddieInCA:

    I think James is simply pointing out that although the average NBA fan knows who he is, most people probably don’t . Although it is a big deal that an active major sport athlete has come out, it’s not going to have quite the enormous resonance it would have had if he were a household name. I think that’s all he’s saying.

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  16. giantslor says:

    @jony101: WTF are you rambling about.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. SoWhat says:

    Eddie, google “list of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sportspeople” to see how truly boring Collins is.

    This has been going on for decades, yet the uninformed shout hosannahs over the news that the sun rises in the east every damned a.m.

    Educate yourself Eddie, you look foolish.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  18. EddieInCA says:

    @SoWhat:

    Even if he doesn’t have much of a future in basketball, it looks like a bunch of political leftwinger heavy-hitters (Joe Kennedy, Chelsea Clinton and her daddy, etc.) are running to his side.

    Collins could be the next Barney Frank!

    Educate yourself Eddie, you look foolish.

    Oh man… the irony….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. SoWhat says:

    Hipster alert!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  20. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Having devoted a fair amount of my misspent youth to the joys of the hardwood, I suppose that a player revealing his homosexuality is something that I could do without. And when our media mavens go out of their way to avoid the (Is it the H-word now?) homosex aspects altogether while trumpeting another progressive bit of progress, well, the grumpy descends upon me.

    While it doesn’t happen often, a collision-based exchange of body fluids is not beyond the realm of possibility in that sport. If I remember correctly, the NBA established a number of procedures to minimize such occurrences back in the “Magic” Johnson HIV day. Now I suppose that one could argue that one’s ever-expanding right to privacy should preclude having reveal one’s male homosexuality to one’s teammates but this topic doesn’t seem to be even announce-able never mind discussable in the current progressively warming climate.

    I used to work with a guy who seemed determined to start a family baseball team. He was fond of saying that children (including his own) were walking petrie dishes. Well, if there’s any accuracy at all to that assessment, then male homosexuals might well be thought of as walking petrie dishes on steroids. Back before Christmas, a local TV station KPIX aired a short report advising male homosexuals to get vaccinated against meningitis if they were planning to travel to New York City. A couple of months back, I came across a short article that reported a male homosexual had died of bacterial meningitis. There seems to be little stasis in male homosexual health.

    I suppose that more than a few will think it trite to bring up the showering aspects of the sport, but I’m also sure many think that triteness becomes me. I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Collins would be okay with my showering with the female members, if any, of his family. Again, this is not something likely to be brought up or discussed in the current age. Similarly, I doubt any investigation about whether concealing his disorientation information is so nonintrusive as to be unethical.

    So, without any machine hum at all, another slice comes off the cultural morés salami. Why it’s almost as if homosexuality wasn’t a sexual dysfunction at all.

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  21. An Interested Party says:

    Why it’s almost as if homosexuality wasn’t a sexual dysfunction at all.

    That would be because it isn’t, asshole…

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