Jason Collins first wrote, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” in a Sports Illustrated exclusive in May 2013. As a result of his revelation, he became the first openly gay athlete playing in a major men’s American team sport. It was a huge step forward to have an openly gay member of the conventionally macho locker rooms of professional sports. However, Collins’ announcement came at the end of the Regular season (his Washington Wizards team was not in the playoffs) and he has not had a chance to set foot in a locker room as an openly gay player.
Collins became a free agent a month after his public coming out and it still remains to be seen if he will set foot in another NBA locker room. His lack of a contract, however, is somewhat characteristic of his recent periods of free agency. Howard Beck for The New York Times points out that because of Collins’ status as a reserve center rather than a superstar one, he will likely not be offered a contract until late July or August. Beck points out that, “Boston did not sign him until July 31 last year. In 2009, it took until Sept. 2 before the Atlanta Hawks gave him a one-year deal.” Therefore, his current status as “unsigned” only a week into free agency is not all that daunting.
Assuming that Collins does rejoin the NBA for his 13th season, it would herald a new culture of inclusion in an industry that has long been defined through an uncompromisingly macho image. In fact, Collins’ coming out along with the US Supreme Court’s recent striking down of Section three of the Defense of Marriage Act shows that a culture of including and accepting diversity is slowly growing in the United States. In the Sports Illustrated piece, Collins described listening to the news of the Supreme Court arguments while “hiding [his] sexuality” as “almost unbearable.” He wrote, “here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn’t say a thing … Not while I was still playing.”
If he is given the opportunity to play another season, Collins would likely play better than the last, since he no longer holds the weight of his secret. This thought relates to the ideas that Mason Donovan and Mark Kaplan set forth in The Inclusion Dividend. Not only would Collins work better, now that his mind is liberated from his secret, but any potential team that would invest in him would also see dividends from his employment. It would create an environment of mutual inclusiveness that from which his teammates would benefit.
Congratulations to Jason and good luck!