Arn Tellem, Collins' Agent, Discusses Process Of Picking SI, Reax From NBA Execs
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.