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Jason Collins’ coming out as gay shouldn’t affect his free agency

Apr 29, 2013, 2:07 PM EDT

File photo of Washington Wizards' Jason Collins going to the basket against Chicago Bulls' Taj Gibson during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Chicago, Illinois Reuters

When I read Jason Collins’ story in Sport Illustrated coming out as gay, my first thought was: good. This is an exciting moment, a historic declaration by Collins, who is tearing down the homophobia that once permeated through American team sports.

Much later, my another thought kicked in: dread.

As Collins notes in his story, he’s a pending free agent who still wants to play in the NBA. What he doesn’t say: he’ll turn 35 next season, his offense is practically non-existent, and he rebounds poorly.

If no NBA team signs him this summer, the narrative will surely shift into basketball’s small-mindedness. Collins will become a martyr, and NBA teams will be vilified.

That would be unfair to everyone involved.

Collins will surely be compared to Jackie Robinson, who baseball didn’t run out of the game simply because he was black. But Robinson was 28 when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and had Hall of Fame-caliber talent. Collins’ premier NBA accomplishment is leading the league in fouls in 2004-05, and he was a much better player then.

Collins is an extremely limited player – he’s has more fouls than points in six of his last seven seasons – and he’s declining, as nearly all players do, with age. He made his late-career mark for defending Dwight Howard, but Howard shot 6-for-8 and scored 19 points in 24 minutes against Collins this year. Collins’ most obvious physical comparison is his twin brother Jarron, who last played in 2011.

The Celtics and Wizards allowed fewer points per possession with Collins on the court, so there’s certainly potential he can still contribute. But signing any 34-year-old, especially a big man, comes with significant risk.

After watching closely as his Nets gave the Pistons fits in the playoffs a decade ago, I developed a healthy respect for Collins, who was definitely underrated while starting with Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin.

But no player can outlast father time, and it’s at least possible Collins time has passed as an NBA player for no other reason than he’s no longer good enough. That’s totally OK.

Please don’t make Collins’ free agency – without evidence of malfeasance – part of the case that professional basketball isn’t accepting of gay players. (If there is reliable evidence, please make a huge deal out of it.)

Yesterday, Collins wasn’t lock to stick in the NBA, and the same is true today. It’s great to celebrate Collins’ announcement for what it is – a monumental moment in not just sports, but American, history. But, when the time comes to judge Collins’ playing ability, let’s do so for what it is: right on the border of NBA level.

If an NBA team signs him this offseason, great. If not, that’s fine too. That’s what happens to players like Collins. Let’s not taint his legitimate basketball ability by making his free agency about today’s announcement. As Collins writes, he wants to “show that gay players are no different from straight ones.”

  1. GT - Apr 29, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    The cynic in me demands to ponder if he timed this announcement to assist his free agency. I applaud his being the first, but I don’t really trust anybody’s noble intentions anymore.

  2. readysethike - Apr 29, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    the timing of this is odd, being that he really has no real chance of playing next year. i mean he got minutes on the wizards because well they are the wizards. but why does his sexual preference need to be told to the world?

    • hollywood26 - Apr 29, 2013 at 9:35 PM

      Umm he’s been wearing a number for the last two years that SCREAMS I’m gay

      I think the only reason he came out is because of all the talk lately. TMZ has been on a gay witch hunt. Look at Kherry Rhodes from the NFL. I’m sure he has taken a pic with an out male and figured he would tell the world in his own way

  3. spthegr8 - Apr 29, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    Hopefully it won’t but his PLAY will!!! I’m just saying!!

  4. bucrightoff - Apr 29, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    Yeah I really hope if no one signs him its not a “See? The NBA is intollerant and is blackballing him”, and more of “Oh yeah, this guy’s pretty much mediocre and old” thing. I also hope whoever signs him isn’t derided as “Trying to get publicity”.

  5. michaeljordanseviltwin - Apr 29, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    This was a smart career move for Collins. He’ll be a hero instead of a widely unheard of backup center.

  6. philyeagles5 - Apr 29, 2013 at 2:40 PM

    i think thats why he did it. so if he doesnt get signed he can cry foul.

  7. acdc363 - Apr 29, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    Man wheb nobody signs him this is gonns get ugly like the people above me said. However if it were up to me you could be as flamin as Ricky Martin but if you can ball then theres a spot for you on an NBA roster.

  8. tuberippin - Apr 29, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    At least people in basketball will understand that, if indeed he is passed on by teams during free agency, it’ll be because he sucks as a center and not because he is gay. Whether or not history may revise that information down the line, however, would be the greater issue.

  9. thebigkahuna23 - Apr 29, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    He’ll catch on with another team. A 7 footer who can play d and rebound always will, look and kwame brown.

    Who cares about his personal preferences? Is he still 7 feet tall? Cool come join the squad.

    • gmsalpha - Apr 29, 2013 at 4:49 PM

      According to Mr Feldman (see last part of third paragraph above)….”and he rebounds poorly”.

      My question though, is since he’s not on a current playoff roster, is he actually an ACTIVE player? He’s not under contract, afterall.

      I respect Jason Collins for doing what he did, but had he done it 3-4 years ago when he still could claim to have skills teams want, I’d be more impressed. As it is, he’s almost 35 and this is just a really awkward situation.

      I’m not sure what to think about it, honestly. If he doesn’t get picked up by another team, regardless of the backlash or commentary, I don’t think he qualifies as the Jackie Robinson of gay pro athletes because he’s not an active player.

      Sorry, but it is going to take a current-year All Star coming out before it has a chance of changing the narrative. Jason Collins at 35 just isn’t going to move the needle, in my opinion. And I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But I doubt it.

  10. fiyeaglesfiy - Apr 29, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    I think this may actually help him in free agency more than hurt him. He may have better odds of a team signing him for marketability now (in some cities). Remember the NBA is a business. Last season Houston overpaid Jeremy Lin because they have a large Chinese fan base and can help sell tickets and merchandise. Even if his skills as a player our declining, he can still be a good rotation player and perhaps a team like Golden State (San Francisco), for example with a large gay population would give him a contract over a younger player because they can sell that to their fans and community.

    To be clear, Im not saying that this was Jason’s intention, thought it was a pretty respectable move…but this may be an added reward of this action.

  11. herkulease - Apr 29, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    Too bad it will happen. You can’t stop the press who refuses to acknowledge reality.

    Hopefully the player himself doesn’t play the “its because I’m gay card” as an excuse.

    Pro sports teams in all sports have shown they will look the other way regarding off field stuff as long as one can continue produce on field/court. That’s all they care.

  12. mazblast - Apr 29, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    What it boils down to is that it’s not really about his being gay. It’s about how he–and the league, and the fans, and society in general–handle his free agency and inevitable exit from the league. If he gets signed by a team only to appease the PC crowd or the gay lobby or some “causies”, if he makes a team only because the team fears a backlash, if he does what I think he won’t do when he gets cut or not signed and whines that “they’re only doing that/not doing that BECAUSE I’m gay”, or if his supporters or the “causies” do that, then he sets the cause of equality for gays back immeasurably.

    Those who are working for equal rights for gays and those who are friends and/or supporters of Collins need to dial back on the emotional reaction to what may happen to/in his career. Sometimes a minority group member doesn’t get something not because they’re a minority, but because they are not meeting the requirements of the job and there may be someone better for it. Sometimes.

  13. dalucks - Apr 29, 2013 at 5:29 PM

    What will hurt his free agency staus is not that he is guy but he cannot play.

  14. iamhoraceknight - Apr 29, 2013 at 6:10 PM

    Great For Him To Come Out, Very Courageous. But, er, um … He played Barely played on a crappy Wizards Team, Can We really call him active?

  15. rajbais - Apr 29, 2013 at 6:24 PM

    It should not. However, if I had an ideal fit for him it would likely be Denver. The Nuggets have embraced Kenneth Faried as the son of two lesbians and they have shown that they wonderful melting pot team in the Mile High City.

    There are foreigners, “pay your due players”, and players from different kinds of families.

    I think George Karl would have Collins signed if He is good enough for the team, but, most importantly, would make him feel at home because of what he’s seen in Faried and at his own home. After seeing his son Koby go through cancer and himself go through two stints of it he’s a changed guy and doesn’t get credit for how well he treats his players.

    I hope Jason can continue his career. Then it again odds of it ceasing seem to be unlikely. When you need 7-footers you sign them when you can find them.

  16. hojo20 - Apr 29, 2013 at 6:43 PM

    His career might be over so it’s no big deal as if Dwight Howard would came out.

  17. eugenesaxe - Apr 29, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    No, it shouldn’t. But it will. Every team needs “that guy” on their bench and in practice, but there are lots of “that guys” who aren’t openly gay. He may be fine in practice/on the bench, but you’re still going to have problems in the locker room, whether you choose to believe it or not. He’s not a good enough player to overcome that.

  18. stayhigh_247 - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:13 AM

    This guy has more courage than most people. He gets props for being the first. There’s probably 10 more guys in the nba that are closeted. Those guys in the nfl that were supposed to come out last month should be ashamed that they didn’t have the courage which is ironic for guys that play a gladiator sport. He obviously is ok with not being signed by a team or else he would have just kept quiet, he’s probably got a nice nest egg anyway and a degree from Stanford, I think he’ll be ok.

  19. bayafan - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:56 AM

    I think he was using the word “gay” as in “happy” he doesn’t have to play for the wizards.

  20. darbie1725 - Apr 30, 2013 at 2:21 AM

    Here we go with the Jackie Robinson comparisons. How long did it take for Robinson to “come out” about his being black or how long did it take for anyone to notice. Robinson’s. “come out” was on his way in. Jason’s “come out” came on his way out. Yeah how brave.

  21. pistolpete0903 - Apr 30, 2013 at 6:51 AM

    If he is good, he should be signed (and not because he is gay).
    having said that, gotta concur with the comment by flyeaglesfly that NBA is a business and a liberal city (GSW or Seattle (if the Kings move up north)) would sign him for the marketability.

  22. pittsburghfan71 - Apr 30, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    I wish people would stop comparing Jackie Robinson to people of the gay community. Jackie Robinson fought to change the world’s preception on black people. Black people were treated unfairly back and it should no way be compared to Jackie Robinson. As a white person I think this is a terrible reference and I think the black community should really think twice before they let this comparison continue.

    Pretty soon people will compare this to Rosa Parks because she stood up for who she was. Or what about Martin Luther King???

    I do not care who is gay and who is not. And quite honestly I’m not even a basketball fan but as a sports fan I do not care what these athletes do on their off time. ITS NONE OF MY BUSISNESS.

  23. rehmer2389 - Apr 30, 2013 at 4:29 PM

    Jackie Robinson?

  24. pittsburghfan71 - May 1, 2013 at 1:39 PM

    Collins will surely be compared to Jackie Robinson, who baseball didn’t run out of the game simply because he was black. But Robinson was 28 when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and had Hall of Fame-caliber talent. Collins’ premier NBA accomplishment is leading the league in fouls in 2004-05, and he was a much better player then.

    __________________________

    Jackie Robinson was the first African American baseball player…

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