SBD/April 30, 2013/Sports in Society

Coming Out Party: Sports World With Positive Reaction To Jason Collins News

Stern said he wasn't surprised by the positive reaction to the Collins news
Wizards C Jason Collins' announcement on SI.com that he is gay, becoming the first active male athlete in one of the major U.S. pro sports to do so, was "greeted with an outpouring of support" from teammates, league execs and major NBA players including Heat G Dwyane Wade and Lakers G Kobe Bryant, according to a front-page piece by Beck & Branch of the N.Y. TIMES. NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "The overwhelming positive reaction does not surprise me. Our players are actually knowledgeable and sophisticated on this issue, and our teams understand it completely. I would have expected them to be supportive, and they are.” Beck & Branch report Collins informed his Wizards teammates, as well as Stern, in a "series of phone calls" yesterday before the story was published online. One NBA scout "estimated that Collins had a 25 percent chance of making an opening-night roster next season, based solely on his basketball skills." But one GM "predicted that Collins would be back in the league because of his reputation as a solid teammate and leader." The GM said that Collins’ "disclosure of his sexuality could even appeal to a forward-thinking owner" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/30). In St. Paul, Charley Walters notes Collins also had "been on the phone" with NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver yesterday morning (ST. PAUL PIONEER-PRESS, 4/30).

PLAYERS, COACHES REACT: In DC, Sheinin & Lee report Collins’ announcement "stunned people around the NBA, including his Wizards teammates." Several of them said that they "had no inclination Collins was gay." Wizards C Emeka Okafor: "My first reaction was I felt for him. ... Maybe more people will (come out) now. Maybe this will be the spark where other people feel comfortable." Sheinin & Lee write Collins may have been the "perfect athlete to break this barrier." As a "fringe player in his sport who is nearing the end of his career, he has little social capital -- in the way of commercial endorsements and job security -- to risk" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/30). Wizards G Bradley Beal said, "I can't speak for everybody, but I think as a team we'll be OK with it" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 4/30). Bulls G Kirk Hinrich, a former teammate of Collins, said, "It's really not significant to me. It doesn't really change what kind of person he is." Nets C Brook Lopez, who like Collins played in college at Stanford, said, "I admire his dignity as well as his courage to come out. I'll always have his back." In Chicago, Philip Hersh notes Collins is "without a contract" for next season. Outsports.com co-Founder Jim Buzinski said, "If he doesn't wind up on a team, people will think it's because nobody wants to touch the gay guy. I know the NBA will be rooting for a team to sign him, but I hope the NBA doesn't force some team to take him as a charity case" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/30).

WHAT IT MEANS FOR NBA: SPORTING NEWS' Sean Deveney wrote it was a "proud day" for Stern, who has "done his best over the previous decade to create an environment in his league that would be welcoming to Collins." Stern "deserves some credit for the environment that exists in the NBA, in which a gay player can receive widespread support" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 4/29). TNT's Charles Barkley said, "This was a great day for the NBA. We’ve always been at the forefront of civil rights. This was a great day.” He added, "I’m happy for Jason Collins. Nobody should have to hide" ("NBA Tip Off," TNT, 4/29). Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said reaction within the NBA is "reflective of society." Thibodeau: "The NBA has always been open-minded. I think it will continue to be so" (SI.com, 4/29). Lawrence Frank, who previously coached Collins, said, “I don’t think it will be as big a deal inside the NBA as it will be outside the league. People will underestimate how other NBA players will react. Guys understand this just doesn’t matter. Like Jason said, everyone in their family has a gay uncle, cousin, sibling. It doesn’t change anyone’s mind about Jason and it shouldn’t. If it does, then it’s your problem” (Bergen RECORD, 4/30).

WELCOME MESSAGE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes the "prevailing opinion from Collins's peer group was almost exuberant in its message: Welcome." This "wasn't a firewall. This was a warm embrace. ... And sports will be better because of it" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/30). The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur writes yesterday was "such a proud day for professional sports." The "common theme, other than love and support and courage and pride, was this: Be who you are." Sports was "ready for this. Sports can handle this" (NATIONAL POST, 4/30). In Newark, Steve Politi writes Collins was "wrapped in a worldwide hug after his announcement." The sports world was "ready to embrace" him (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/30). In Chicago, Rick Morrissey writes most people "seemed ... fine." Backlash was "nowhere to be seen. ... it just felt right" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 4/30). ESPN.com's Tim Keown wrote observers were "expecting a gasp, and in the end, we got a shrug." That is a "good thing" (ESPN.com, 4/29). SPORTS ON EARTH’s Will Leitch wrote Collins’ announcement had “no backlash,” and there was not “a single ‘respectable’ person doing anything other than being unequivocally supportive.” Leitch: “And that was about it. By 1 p.m., ESPN was back to Tim Tebow, and everyone on Twitter was back to self-promotion again. It was fantastic” (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 4/29). Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban in an e-mail wrote, “Good for Jason. I hope this opens the door for other players to be honest about who they are” (ESPNDALLAS.com, 4/29). USA TODAY's Erik Brady in a front-page piece writes the announcement was "greeted with mostly positive public reaction from major political figures to major universities to major league clubhouses." Outsports.com co-Founder Cyd Zeigler said, "I don't know if it's going to be next week or next month or next year, but I do think there are going to be a lot more" (USA TODAY, 4/30).

BREAKING BARRIERS: President Obama at the end of his daily press briefing today addressed Collins' announcement and said, "It’s a great thing and America should be proud that this is just one more step in this ongoing recognition that we treat everybody fairly and everybody’s part of a family and we judge people on the basis of their character and their performance and not their sexual orientation. I’m very proud of him” (“Squawk on the Street,” CNBC, 4/30). In Chicago, David Haugh writes this is the "most significant byline sports journalism will see in 2013." Haugh: "No headline will scream any louder or prouder about a monumental victory." Sports and society "celebrated Collins sharing his story like the great occasion it is" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/30). USA TODAY's Christine Brennan writes it is "nothing short of a watershed moment in the sweep of American history." Brennan: "Let us hope that there is an NBA team that wants him, not to make a social statement, but to sign a veteran big man with another season left in him" (USA TODAY, 4/30). CBS News’ Scott Pelley said Collins' announcement “may be a turning point for American sports.” CBS’ James Brown said this “is pretty significant” and the comparison to Jackie Robinson is a “fair one” (“Evening News,” CBS, 4/29). In Hartford, Jeff Jacobs writes, "I don't think Jason Collins is Jackie Robinson. ... Yet maybe other humans, especially young, frightened souls, will be made to feel comfortable enough to express themselves and become whole." Male team sports "must clear this final barrier. And now is the time" (HARTFORD COURANT, 4/30). Flyers scout Patrick Burke, who founded You Can Play, a group “advocating equality for athletes regardless of sexual orientation.” He said, "This is the first domino. The floodgates are about to open here" (L.A. TIMES, 4/30). In Newark, Craig Wolff cites sources as saying that since Collins’ announcement, there are "other athletes ... contemplating coming out -- if not within months, then weeks or even days." The sources “requested anonymity because they had been told this in confidence” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/30).
 
THE RIGHT GUY AT THE RIGHT TIME: SI's Jon Wertheim said of Collins, “In some ways, you couldn’t find a player who is better suited for this. He knows what’s coming, he understands the issues, he realizes the gravity of this" ("Power Lunch," CNBC, 4/29). In Boston, Gerry Callahan writes the sports world has been "awaiting The Guy, the man who would be the first to come out of the closet and onto center stage." Yesterday "we finally met him, and at first blush, he is very impressive: smart, tough, 7 feet tall and seemingly prepared to meet the world with a smile" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/30). FOXSPORTS.com’s Bill Reiter: “This is a seminal moment not because what he did is easy or easily done but because it will absolutely be very hard and, in ways big and small, alienating” (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/29). The AP’s Jim Litke wrote Collins’ acceptance is “likely to be decided at the next level, by teammates who share the locker room and by fans who fill NBA arenas at home and on the road.” That is “where the rest of us come in” (AP, 4/29). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Jeff Blair writes Collins’ peers likely “will be accepting and understanding because they have no choice.” They have been “put on notice.” Yesterday marked a “good day for inclusion” (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/30). ESPN.com contributors in a roundtable discussion weighed in on whether the league will “show the same acceptance” under the header, “NBA Ready For An Openly Gay Player?” (ESPN.com, 4/29).

MAKING THINGS EASIER FOR WHOEVER'S NEXT
: Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said he liked the way the "story came out, him writing the story, not rumors about a player and a player having to answer speculation.” Cowlishaw: “He said, ‘I’m happy to start the conversation,’ and that’s what he has done. He's made it that much easier for the second and the third guys who need to come out and live their lives” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 4/29). In Boston, Steve Buckley writes it will be "easier for the next guy, thanks to Jason Collins and his eloquent prose." That is his "gift to us" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/30). In San Jose, Mark Purdy writes Collins' announcement will "prompt other male athletes in team sports to come out, knowing they will no longer be the first -- and seeing that Collins did not spontaneously combust into a loathed ball of flame when he decided to tell the truth." Collins is the "perfect guy to do this, to be in this position." He is "smart, and he is strong" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 4/30). In S.F., Ann Killion writes Collins is an "important figure." We have been "waiting for a male professional athlete to come out, to break that final, long-forbidden barrier, if for nothing else than to say that it can be done." So that "no one else has to be the first" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 4/30). CBS Sports Network’s Allie LaForce said, “Professional sports just needed one athlete to come out and do this. Now I think we’ll see the spiral effect, or at least I hope that we do" ("Lead Off," CBSSN, 4/29).  In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes Collins is a "smart, mature, strong man," and he is "OK with being the pioneer" (K.C. STAR, 4/30). In DC, Sally Jenkins writes the "lateness of male pro leagues on this subject is striking; women have been coming out for 30 years." One of the reasons Collins decided to "make his announcement was that he wanted to declaw the outers" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/30).

TRUE TEST COMES WITH STAR PLAYER: In DC, Thom Loverro writes Collins' moment "shouldn't be diminished," as it "moves the ball down the field toward the goal line." But the "true test will come when a prominent player -- not a star, but a starting player in the middle of his career -- makes the same declaration when he will be in locker rooms and playing fields and courts for years to come." Collins "made it easier for that moment to come" (WASHINGTON EXAMINER, 4/30). In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell writes the announcement means "that one day, an athlete in the prime of his professional career, maybe even a star athlete, will be able to live his life out in the open, not in the closet" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 4/30). In Detroit, Jeff Seidel writes the "next step will be a superstar coming out." And then, the "next step after that is a pro team that will draft a college player who is already out of the closet." Or a pro team "that will sign a gay free agent" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 4/30). In N.Y., Mike Vaccaro writes Collins' "revelation chips away at a few bricks." But it will "take time. Probably more time than it should" (N.Y. POST, 4/30). In San Antonio, Buck Harvey wrote Collins' announcement, "as significant as it was, was still a cautious one." Harvey: "So when is a younger player ready to take this on?" (MYSANANTONIO.com, 4/29).

SHIFT IN PUBLIC OPINION: In Baltimore, Kevin Cowherd writes Collins has "given us a defining moment in sports," one that "was a long time coming" (Baltimore SUN, 4/30). In Detroit, Vince Ellis writes, "Real progress will come when no one cares" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 4/30). In Philadelphia, Marcus Hayes writes the announcement was "less incredible than inevitable." But "such is the reality of enlightenment" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 4/30). SI.com's Michael Rosenberg wrote under the header, "Reaction To Jason Collins Shows How Far Public Opinion Has Shifted" (SI.com, 4/29). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes Collins "doesn't seem to be trying to advance any agenda here, except coming to grips with taking control of his own life." The "strange thing is that by today's media spin cycle, Collins' first-person story could quickly be dispersed, digested and almost discarded by week's end without any discernible resolution." Hoffarth: "Is this really more creating another branch that feeds into a larger river of conversation?" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 4/30). In Miami, Greg Cote writes the reaction to Collins' announcement "suggests to us that for every drunken boor who might call out a homophobic slur ... another thousand voices will be cheering for Collins" (MIAMI HERALD, 4/30).

WHAT'S NEXT? A BOSTON HERALD editorial states Collins "now becomes a role model for kids struggling with their sexuality and a marketer's dream." The "only remaining question is can he shoot?" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/30). A NEWSDAY editorial states one of the "biggest questions will be: 'Does this matter?'" It "matters very much" (NEWSDAY, 4/30).
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