Photo credit to slate.com
After coming out as an openly gay man shortly after his retirement this past year, Jason Collins (a 12 year NBA veteran) was signed to a 10-day contract to the New York Nets. Collins will now go down in the history books as the first openly gay player in the four main professional sports.
It was expected that Michael Sam, the SEC co-defensive player of the year, would be the first to break the barrier in professional sports when he came out this past month, but in an out of the blue decision, the Nets brought in Collins as a, "Role Player," to help end the year off strong. Collins has never put up all-star number in his career, averaging about four points a game and four rebounds throughout his 12-year career. He is known as a player who can guard the larger offensive weapons, but there are plenty of people the Nets could have signed for this role. The Nets general manager Billy King released a statement saying their decision was strictly business.
"The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision," said King. "We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for the 10-day contract."
Collins comes in at 7'0'' and weighs 255lbs, clearly making him a weapon inside. Being a lockdown defender, Collins does seem like a reasonable choice for the job. The Nets players have expressed excitement for their new teammate. Kevin Garnett went on the record saying that Collins belongs in the NBA.
"I think it's important that anybody who has the capabilities and skill level gets a chance to do something he's great at," said Garnett. "I think it would be bias, and in a sense, racist, if you were to keep that opportunity from a person."
The team seems to be welcoming their newest teammates with open arms, Collins was more than grateful for the opportunity, as he expressed in a statement made just before his game against the L.A. Lakers.
"Sometimes in life something happens and there's an opportunity," said Collins. I'm very thankful for this opportunity. That's why I work so hard, why I train the way I do so that when I do have an opportunity physically I'm not worried about my condition or cardio or anything along those lines."
Although he does make sense as a role player for the Nets, this is about a whole lot more than just guarding centers. Collins has chose to wear the number 98, paying tribute to Matthew Shepard. Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming who died as a result of an anti-gay hate crime. True, Collins is out there to play a game, but he is making a much larger difference outside the court.
More and more people everyday find the courage to come out to the public and share who they really are. In a perfect world, a professional athlete being gay would not make headlines, but we are not there yet, so until then we need people like Jason Collins and Michael Sam. People who will take the pressure upon themselves to let others know they can come out as well. Think about how many homosexual professional athletes there could be out there. Perhaps we are witnessing the domino effect taking place.