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SBD/May 1, 2013/Sports in SocietyPrint All
Wizards C Jason Collins continues to discuss his decision to announce he is gay, becoming the first active male athlete in any of the four major sports to do so, and he told the N.Y. TIMES' Frank Bruni, "I expected some support for my teammates, from my coaches, but to get all the support from every single person I talked to ... from the NBA family, the Stanford family ... It's been overwhelming." He added, "It's my responsibility to acknowledge those who came before me, give credit to them, and then there are those who are going to come after me, and it's my responsibility to lift them up." Collins, who is due to become a free agent this summer, said of his NBA future, "I'm sure that teams will look at my basketball, look at what I have to offer. My role in the NBA is as a backup center, and I know that I'll be ready at any moment" (NYTIMES.com, 4/30). Collins sat for an hour-long podcast with GRANTLAND.com’s Bill Simmons, who said, “You're going to be a gay role model for basically this generation. Did that enter your thinking at all?” Collins: “A little bit, but honestly I was thinking about just being honest with myself and with the general public, coming out on my own terms and controlling putting my story out there. But yes, I acknowledge that it has a greater impact on society overall.” Collins said he is not planning on releasing a book about his story as of right now, but noted former U.S. national soccer team MF Robbie Rogers, who came out in February, has asked him to "take part in doing a segment for some documentary that’s being produced by Steve Nash, or something along those lines." Collins: "I might sit down and give an interview, but it’s not going to be the Jason Collins story” (“The B.S. Report,” GRANTLAND.com, 4/30).
A SIGN OF THE TIMES: It has been more than 48 hours since Collins' announcement was first posted on SI.com, and CSNNE.com's Rich Levine wrote, "I’m happy to report that we’re all still here." Levine: "No riots. No locusts. No end of days" (CSNNE.com, 4/30). In Miami, Linda Robertson writes the news is a "big deal," as it is a "symbolic first step in a major sport for an active player" (MIAMI HERALD, 5/1). The GUARDIAN's Hunter Felt wrote Collins "matters because he brings society one step closer to a future where a player's sexual orientation actually won't matter" (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 4/30). In Arizona, Patrick Finley notes Collins is "well-liked around the league, which might explain why Monday's announcement was met with little rancor." But it also is a "sign of the times." Our view of "homosexuality in culture has changed, even in the last decade" (ARIZONA DAILY STAR, 5/1). In New Jersey, Stephanie Akin writes Collins' revelation "shifted the conversation surrounding homosexuality in American sports." The question was "no longer when will an athlete in a major sports league come out, but when will it be so commonplace that no one cares?" The "high-profile endorsements that followed Collins' declaration ... seemed to back up a trend that polling data have shown for a while: Americans are beginning to accept homosexuality as part of mainstream culture" (Bergen RECORD, 5/1). In Cincinnati, C. Trent Rosecrans wrote it seems "most of the sports world is behind Collins, and that seems to show that not only was it time for this, but possibly overdue" (CINCINNATI.com, 4/30). However, in Buffalo, Bucky Gleason writes, "Our society likes to believe it took a major step Monday by rallying behind Collins, but in many ways it revealed just how much it lagged behind in the first place" (BUFFALO NEWS, 5/1).
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: In Tampa, Tom Jones writes it "could be years before we see the full effect of Collins' announcement." For now, the "real test isn't to see how the public is going to react to Collins, but how other athletes react to him." The cause "hasn't ended with Collins' announcement." It is "just getting started" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 5/1). In Sacramento, Marcos Breton writes Collins is "like a relay runner ready to pass the baton of equality to anyone emboldened enough to carry it" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 5/1). A BUFFALO NEWS editorial states Collins' declaration is a "watershed moment in sports and American history." Not just because of "the message itself, but because of the overall positive reaction from players, coaches and fans." That is "something to celebrate" (BUFFALO NEWS, 5/1). CBS Sports Network’s Allie LaForce said, “There are so many people in professional sports, fans and people of the LGBT community who consider him to have made heroic actions because he has opened up the door for other professional athletes to come out” ("Lead Off," CBSSN, 4/30). The FINANCIAL TIMES' Simon Kuper writes this acceptance is "partly because today's athletes belong to a gay-friendly generation." But it also "has to do with the ideology of sport: what matters are results" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 5/1).
NO ROOM FOR IGNORANCE: FOXSPORTS.com's Jason Whitlock wrote soon the "kind words of support will quit pouring in and the forces of regression will pick apart his exquisitely crafted story, question his motives and loudly protest that the gay man's seat at the table of equality will lead to the ruin of this great nation." Whitlock: "I fully expect -- and quite frankly I demand -- David Stern to use his power to ensure that Jason Collins has a job in the NBA for 82 games next season." This is a "chance for basketball to be as important as baseball in 1947" (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/30). In Chicago, Steve Rosenbloom wrote Collins' "spotlight also will shine on those clinging to ignorant, bigoted beliefs." Several of Bears LB Lance Briggs' Twitter followers "asked him about Collins." Each time, he "actively tweeted a response that changed the subject to another Chicago team, ditties like this: 'How about those Bulls!!!'" It "appears Briggs deleted the tweets." A source said that the team, "trying since Monday, has not been able to reach Briggs for an explanation" (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 4/30). Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley cited the comments ESPN's Chris Broussard made about Collins coming out, and wrote what is "hard to understand is what possible relevance Broussard thought his own beliefs had to do with this issue and why he had to share them with a national television audience." He is "not paid to give witness to his Christian beliefs." He is "paid to give witness to whether or not the Lakers want Dwight Howard back" (JSONLINE.com, 4/30).
CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES: In Chicago, Ellen Jean Hirst notes a "hall of fame for gay athletes and allies launched in Chicago." The nonprofit National Gay & Lesbian Sports HOF will "accept nominees beginning this summer." Nominees can be "from any sporting level, from youth leagues to professional sports" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/1).
NBA player agent and Wasserman Media Group Vice Chair Arn Tellem spoke to SportsBusiness Journal following the announcement that his longtime client, Wizards C Jason Collins, is gay. The following are excerpts from his conversation.
Q: Why did you choose Sports Illustrated and Franz Lidz to break the news that Jason is gay?
Tellem: When I was told by Jason in March that he was gay, we had a series of discussions about how this would be handled. I had a long standing friendship with Franz. I have known him since I was a child. We both grew up in the same neighborhood in Philadelphia. He is a fabulous writer, one of the best out there, and I knew I could trust him. So after I talked to Jason and got his permission, I called Franz and said I had a player -- I requested the conversation would remain confidential -- I said I had a player who is gay and we are looking for a way to announce it and we discussed our different alternatives.
Ultimately, we agreed to do it with Sports Illustrated for a couple of reasons. They agreed to two conditions I had. One, that I wouldn’t tell them the player's name. That had to remain confidential until the time of the interview. And two, what was appealing to using Sports Illustrated was the fact that Jason could write a personal piece, in his own words, which I thought was the best way -- and so did Jason -- for him to make this announcement. Once we agreed, we followed through with that. We waited until after the season, not to be done while he was playing. We decided to wait until after the season. And because Jason was concerned that he wanted -- not to be outed -- he wanted to do it on his terms. ... he wanted to control the way the message was delivered, not somebody else.
Q: Why did you choose Bill Simmons and Magic Johnson and George Stephanopoulos? Why not somebody else?
Tellem: We chose the first interviews for one, because the NBA is on the ABC/ESPN network. We felt that going there would be easier. We thought that George was a serious news person and that this is a news story and should be treated that way, as a serious news issue. And with Bill Simmons, it's really a continuation of that thinking. He is part of ESPN and a serious writer and has been outspoken on these issues. We thought that, and ESPN concurred, that he would be the perfect one to do the interview. And later today he is going to do a piece with TNT, because that is also an NBA broadcast partner, so he will be on the halftime show with (TNT's Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley) and the group. We think that is an important broadcast, that is part of the NBA family. Because he is a basketball player and to his fans and the community of players who will be watching this, we thought a combination of ESPN and TNT was important. He will do follow-up interviews, not a lot, but a few select interviews and we are planning that now.
Q: What has been the reaction of the NBA and GMs around the league?
Tellem: It’s been overwhelmingly positive beyond all my expectations, starting with a call to Commissioner Stern and Adam Silver (Monday) morning, before the story broke. They couldn’t have been more sympathetic and told Jason that he could count on their total support and they followed through with that. They are two of the best leaders in all of sports and two of the most progressive and have always been in the forefront of protecting players and promoting tolerance and respect among all individuals. I think they set the tone. And, because of Jason and the quality of person that he is, I got calls from general managers and coaches and players, all -- all -- in support of Jason. And I think it was very moving to Jason and myself to be making and receiving calls. Everyone was behind him. It says a lot about who he is as a player and a person.
Q: Do you think Jason will get signed during free agency?
Tellem: I don’t anticipate there will be any problems. Jason is a pro’s pro. He is the consummate professional. He has been in the league for 12 years and he has a body of work. He is a valued and respected teammate and a great player to have on a team. He has helped teams win his entire career. He was the starting center on the Nets team that went to the Finals twice.
Q: Prior to his announcement, did Jason have any endorsement deals and have you received calls for endorsement deals since the announcement?
Tellem: All I can say is this announcement had absolutely nothing to do with marketing or endorsements. It's about someone being able to live his life as he chooses and asking people to accept who he is as a person, based on his character and his accomplishments, and nothing more. There’s been no discussions, no thought of endorsements.
Wizards C Jason Collins' revelation that he is gay will have "no influence" on the team's plans with him this offseason when he becomes a free agent, according to a source cited by Michael Lee of the WASHINGTON POST. Collins has "limited skills," so bringing him back was "never among the team’s priorities -- and that has not changed" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/1). In Illinois, Mike Imrem writes Collins "won't need a police escort everywhere he visits around the NBA next season but will need support from his team and teammates," and the Bulls would be the "right group to provide it." Bulls and White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf has been "intent on creating a culture of inclusion" on both teams (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 5/1). CSNWASHINGTON.com's J. Michael wrote Collins "definitely would not end up" in a small market like Oklahoma City. Aside from the Thunder "not having a need, religion, perception and how a player would be received by the community plays a major role in how that front office constructs the roster" (CSNWASHINGTON.com, 4/30). SI.com's Chris Ballard wrote if Collins "stays in the league, he will be a lumbering, charge-taking conversational catalyst." Stories will be "written about his teammates, and opponents, and how he's treated by fans." He will be an "ambassador and hero to some." He will be an "object of derision for others." But we will "never know how his peers and coaches will react -- how we will react -- unless he plays." One Western Conference team exec said, "There's a dearth of bigs and he's the guy you call right before Labor Day. Frankly, now he's more interesting. I think this could help his career" (SI.com, 4/30). TNT analyst Steve Kerr said, "He's definitely worth adding to your roster" (AP, 4/30).
WEIGHING THE OPTIONS: In Orlando, Mike Bianchi writes the question now is whether an NBA team will "have the guts to sign Jason Collins" or will his "ground-breaking announcement also turn out to be a career-ending one" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 5/1). ESPN.com's J.A. Adande wrote teams have to "weigh the limited contributions of the player against the extraordinary attention he'll generate." Adande: "Some teams might actually want to sign him because of the historic aspects and a desire to be part of the progress." ESPN.com's Israel Gutierrez wrote he can "envision a progressive-minded owner signing Collins not only to utilize his abilities but also to make a statement." The "worst statement that could possibly be made" is if Collins does not sign with anyone, as there would then be a "handful of people who assume it happened because he was gay." Gutierrez: "I doubt that'll happen" (ESPN.com, 4/30). CBS Sports Network’s Doug Gottlieb believes Collins will be signed by a team this summer. Gottlieb said, "He's not going to be picked up, I don’t believe, because he’s the first homosexual NBA player, but because he’s a pro’s pro. Because he shows up to work every practice” (“Lead Off,” CBSSN, 4/30). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said NBA Commissioner David Stern “will make sure” that Collins is on a team next year. Kornheiser: “The NBA, among other leagues, has long anticipated and planned for the announcement of an openly gay player. If he doesn’t play, no matter what their intentions are, it will look like the NBA colluded to get rid of him because of his sexual orientation” (“PTI,” ESPN, 4/30).
COLLINS CONFIDENT ABOUT BEING SIGNED: Collins said that his NBA experience "would be an asset to any team" looking to sign him. He said, "You can knock me all you want, but professional basketball players are an elite group and I've been doing it 12 years." He said that he was "confident his sexual orientation would not become an issue in the locker room." Collins: "I'll be waiting for someone to make the first joke, we'll all laugh and then we'll get out there and play" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/1).
If the NBA’s reaction over the past two days to Wizards C Jason Collins' announcement that he is gay “is any indication, the league is further along in its progression of acceptance than perhaps observers gave it credit for,” according to Gary Washburn of the BOSTON GLOBE. Maybe the time was “perfect for Collins to come out because while a sizeable portion of players likely don’t agree with his lifestyle, they are mature enough to respect that he has a right to that decision” (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/1). In Philadelphia, John Mitchell notes “most of the response from athletes hasn't been of the testosterone-laced homophobic nature some predicted” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/1). In West Palm Beach, Ethan Skolnick writes it was “important for some Heat players to say something" about Collins' announcement, as silence "might have spoken louder.” Heat F LeBron James "did not tweet Monday” about the news, but yesterday he said, “It was a strong thing to do. I think it’s very cool, man. None of us should go around wondering about what other people [think] we should be as human beings. I think it’s very strong of him” (PALM BEACH POST, 5/1). Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, "The NBA is a fraternity. It's good to see players in that fraternity support him. The world is changing, and it's not a bad thing." Heat F Shane Battier: "I can't imagine how difficult that decision was. He knows the consequences, but I'm proud of him. He's an upstanding guy" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 5/1). Heat F Chris Andersen: “He’s going to have a tough road, but you know what, I think he’s in the right part of a state of mind that he’s going to be … a tough leader” (MIAMI HERALD, 5/1).
NOTHING BUT LOVE: In N.Y., Peter May writes a “thoughtful, reflective tone prevailed” among Celtics players when asked about their former teammate, who was “well-liked" when he was on the squad earlier this season. Celtics F Paul Pierce: “I was definitely surprised. I had no idea. We don’t know what people do with their off-time. ... What he did is a great thing -- to open the door for a number of athletes who are going to have the courage to come out.” Knicks F Kenyon Martin said, “Takes a brave man. I commend him for having the courage to do it.” Knicks G Jason Kidd: “It’s just going to make the world a better place at the end of the day.” Kidd said of Collins being picked up by a team after he becomes a free agent July 1, “I wouldn’t see why not. He’s a guy that can help and he’s a veteran guy. In this league, you need veteran guys” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/1). The AP’s Howard Ulman noted none of the Celtics “expressed concern Tuesday about having been on the same team as a gay player,” but they did “care about what he did to help Boston win games and about how he might help other gay athletes” (AP, 4/30). Former Nets Owner Lewis Katz, whose team drafted Collins out of Stanford in ’01, said, “He's just a terrific kid. ... If you'd gone down our roster at the time, there wasn't a better adjusted human being than Jason Collins. And that wasn't the standard of the day in the NBA” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/1).
TENNIS, ANYONE? USA TODAY’s Douglas Robson notes tennis, which has a “history of prominent out athletes such as Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Amelie Mauresmo,” has been “conspicuously without an openly gay male player in the Open era, active or retired.” Tennis might not be a “bastion of tolerance, but it would appear to contain the framework for gay athletes, male or female, to compete with greater ease.” Tennis players are “independent contractors that control their own destiny,” so GMs or coaches “cannot thwart or threaten playing time.” Some observers have “wondered if a global sport like tennis might actually be less tolerant due to the complicated matrix of nationalities, languages and religions.” But the “climate for gay athletes is warming.” Tennis player Mardy Fish and retired player Andy Roddick after hearing about Collins’ announcement “became the first two male tennis players to join Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to ending homophobia in sports” (USATODAY.com, 5/1).
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE: NASCAR driver Carl Edwards said if a driver came out as gay, it would not “be that big of an issue.” Edwards: “If you can go out there and drive a race car and you can do it well, you’re a respected race car driver and that’s it in NASCAR.” The circuit this year has already suspended Jeremy Clements for making a racially insensitive comment, and ESPN’s Brad Daugherty asked, “Where do we provide the learning opportunity for the people who do have the intolerance and the ignorance and don’t quite understand? ... There are a lot issues that go along with this that we can’t talk about because of political correctness” (“NASCAR Now,” ESPN2, 5/1).
DOUBTS ON WHETHER NFL IS READY: Former NFLer and NBC’s Hines Ward said he did not believe the NFL was "ready" for a gay player, as there are "too many guys in the locker room and, you know, guys play around too much” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 4/30). But ESPN’s Tedy Bruschi asked, “If not now, when? There’s always going to be ignorance, there’s always going to be immaturity in an NFL locker room.” ESPN’s Wendi Nix: “It’s a microcosm of society as a whole” (“NFL 32,” ESPN2, 4/30). Meanwhile, Senators RW Daniel Alfredsson said, "I give kudos to him, but I still think it's unfortunate (the story) is getting as much attention as it is. I think in today's society, we're getting to a point where it's more and more accepted throughout the whole world” (OTTAWA SUN, 5/1). In Orlando, Mike Bianchi writes, “Do not for a second believe that the uniform message of approval flooding in about Collins being the first openly gay active player in a major American team sport is the same sort of message being espoused in locker rooms around American sports. … Politically correct pro athletes may say one thing for public consumption and something entirely different when they are behind the closed doors of their rude, crude, testosterone-charged locker rooms” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 5/1).
NCAA President Mark Emmert yesterday opened the '13 NCAA Inclusion Forum by "urging campus leaders to make school policies more welcoming for women, minorities, disabled athletes and those with different sexual orientations" in light of Wizards C Jason Collins announcing he is gay, according to Michael Marot of the AP. Emmert did not specifically mention Collins, but "expressed his support for the first openly gay active player in a major American pro sports league." Emmert said, "At the very least, I hope it does make it much easier for athletes in universities and other environments to be open about it and be supported by their coaching staffs and teammates. We're talking about a culture change, and it's slow and arduous, but what I'm seeing on campuses is that the inclusion issue has moved up." He added, "The need for a high-performing athlete to feel he can be open and honest about his sexuality is long overdue" (AP, 4/30). Stanford football coach David Shaw said, "I'm more excited about the reaction to his announcement than the announcement itself. Hopefully we'll eventually get to the point of, who cares? Can he play with his back to the basket? Can he play defense? Can the kid sack the quarterback? Whatever time frame it is until we get to that point, hopefully it's sooner than later." Cal coach Sonny Dykes: "This will be the first step in people being more comfortable in talking about these types of things" (SI.com, 4/30).
IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION: CBSSPORTS.com's Dennis Dodd wondered if one of the major college sports could be the "next to embrace a gay athlete." Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian "found himself recently discussing the subject of a gay athlete with his staff." Sarkisian said, "We're trying to get ahead of this. How do we educate our players? How do we educate our fans? How does it pertain to the recruiting process? Our conversation came about: What if there is a potential recruit? If there is a college athlete that is openly gay, does that affect his draft status? We're in the infancy stages quite honestly in dealing with it" (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/30).