News broke this morning that the next issue of Sports Illustrated would feature Wizards center Jason Collins on the cover. If that wasn’t surprising enough, the topic that landed him on the cover is also the number one trending topic on Twitter, along with coverage from every organization, including ESPN and the Associated Press.
Jason Collins is gay.
Being the first openly gay athlete in all four of the United States’ major professional sports is a huge deal. With this morning’s news, he has paved a new road for the way that professional sports will deal with openly homosexual athletes. There has been much discussion about it, but up until now, it was a “wait-and-see” kind of deal to see how the world will handle it.
While it’s still up in the air how he’ll be treated in the locker room and on the court from not only the players, but the fans as well, the initial reaction from everyone is one of support and embrace for what can only be described as one of the bravest moments in what can be described as a very homophobic-leaning sports atmosphere.
The NBA was quick to release a statement from David Stern after the announcement.
“As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family. Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.” #NBAFamily
The NBA has been hashtagging all relevant tweets with #NBAFamily, showing their open support of Collins, who will be a free agent after his short tenure with the Washington Wizards. Collins was acquired from Boston in a trade that sent Jordan Crawford packing.
Ernie Grunfeld made a statement about Collins, as well.
“We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation.”
Players across the NBA were also quick to come to Jason’s defense and congratulate him for opening up. Steve Nash, Baron Davis and Earl Watson all tweeted their support for the 7’0 255-pound Center, but the most notable tweet came from Kobe Bryant, who had stepped away from his Twitter hiatus to say the following…
“@kobebryant: Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU”
Something that may slip under the radar is that as of this morning before the story came out, Jason Collins had just over 3,000 followers on Twitter. As of 12:45 P.M. this afternoon, Collins was up to 18,550.
In a world that is divided by the LGBT rights issue, Collins’ decision to come out is monumental for the community. Not only did he do it while semi-part of the Washington Wizards, and in a city considered one of the most tolerant and diverse areas in the United States, but he has allowed other players a venue to announce the same and to let them know they’re not alone.
Collins, who admitted this sexual orientation in his SI article, will have a lot more eyes on him next season. I doubt he remains a Wizard, but whoever does land Collins in the offseason is going to have one hell of a social experiment on their hands.
Hopefully the players and fans alike can make the NBA and its fans proud by proving to everybody that nothing changes and the extra media coverage will be a bust.