Former NBA Nets Star Jason Collins’ coming out provokes local pride, but exposes more challenges

Posted at 8:34 PM, Apr 29, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-29 20:52:25-04

BROOKLYN (PIX11) – In his seven seasons with the Nets, Jason Collins brought great pride to his team that has now moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey, where he played.  Now, however, the pride is his own after he came out as a gay man in a very public way.

Collins, 34, is well known as a very capable center who helped to take the then-New Jersey Nets to a half dozen playoffs, including two NBA Finals.  He also helped the Atlanta Falcons secure berths in three more playoffs.

The Los Angeles native has had a distinguished career dating back to high school, and was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated back in college for his heroics at Stanford in the late 1990s.   But now, Jason Collins is back on the cover of the most prominent sports magazine for much more than just sports.

Spelled out clearly on the cover of the just-released edition of SI are three clear words:    the gay athlete.  Collins came out in a very public way, saying that he was tired of living a secret.  Some fellow athletes are already on record showing support.

On Twitter, two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steve Nash of the L.A. Lakers tweeted, “The time has come. Maximum respect.”

And fellow Laker Kobe Bryant also tweeted, within minutes of the release of Collins’s news, “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support…”

The most powerful basketball player in the world, President Barack Obama, has not as yet made a direct public comment about Collins’s action.  However, nothing is issued by the White House without presidential approval.  White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Monday about Collins’s high-profile declaration, “We view that here at the White House as the progress that has been made.  We commend him for his courage and support him.”

Here in New York, City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, who is herself openly gay, made a public statement during a media question and answer session Monday.  She said that she was excited by how prominent this first ever coming out by an active American athlete in a major sport was.

From now on, Quinn said, “there will be that athlete on TV, proving to the world that stereotypes don’t matter, but showing others who you are and being true to yourself does.”

As for the effect of this move on Collins’s career,  Anthony Sulla-Heffinger, sportswriter for the New York Post told PIX11 News, “It certainly won’t hurt him.  It could lead… to  positive publicity” for a team on which Collins is playing.  Collins, a free agent, is currently on the roster of the Washington Wizards.

Virtually all of the reviews to the PIX11 Newsroom were positive, including from an organization that advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer, or LGBTQ, issues.  The Brooklyn Community Pride Center is based near the Nets’ current home of Barclays Center, in Downtown Brooklyn.  However, the organization’s leader pointed out that this new development is part of a longer course toward equal rights.

“[It’s] an incredible milestone,” said Erin Drinkwater, executive director of the advocacy group, “but there is [more] work to be done. We want to make sure people aren’t discriminated against in employment or public accomodations because of who they are and who they love.”

She pointed out that pending federal and New York State legislation designed to protect LGBTQ citizens from discrimination may have significant challenges becoming law.

Also, one professional athlete tweeted a negative reaction to Collins’s move.  Michael Wallace, a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins, wrote, “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys.”

Wallace has now removed his message from Twitter.