Liam Day explains why it’s really no surprise that Jason Collins hasn’t been signed yet, and why he’s not worried that Collins may never play in the NBA again.
Some commentators are calling it a setback. Travis Waldron does. (I have to give Travis a tip of the hat for bringing the story to our attention here at The Good Men Project. I find myself chasing Travis quite a bit, actually.)
Maybe he’s right, but I don’t think so. Yes, as NBA training camps open, Jason Collins remains unsigned and it is quite possible he will never play another game in the league, which means we would be left again waiting for the first openly gay man to play in one of North America’s four major professional sports leagues.
Still, I believe the closet has been opened and that it will never again be closed. The fanfare with which Collins’ announcement was met back in April all but assures that. Despite Roy Hibbert’s “no homo” comment at a press conference during the playoffs, the NBA is clearly no bastion of homophobia.
In fact, that no team has signed Collins, a free agent, can be taken as a sign the system works, the system in this case being a league of competitive franchises judged solely on the basis of whether they win or lose. Jason Collins turns 35 in December and has for many years been a marginal player at best. As I pointed out on The Good Men Project last spring, it was always a possibility he wouldn’t get picked up by a team: “He’s 34 years old after all and averaged only 1.1 points per game last season, while earning the veteran-minimum salary of $1.35 million dollars. (If you’re curious about the math, that comes out to more than $32,000 per point.)”
$32,000 per point is an awful lot of money to shell out to make a political statement. That is the great thing about sports, and why, as I’ve mentioned before, they have always been a vehicle of integration. When what is at stake is winning and losing, the only yardstick that matters for evaluating a player is whether he can play.
Ultimately, the search for a major league athlete who also happens to be gay is a search for more than equality. It’s about helping us to redefine masculinity in the 21st century. It is a desire to break in society’s mind the link between athletic prowess and butch, frat boy behavior, to overturn the often unspoken assumptions about how athletes, the manliest men, are supposed to behave. Sexual prowess and athletic prowess have always been thought to go hand in hand.
Conversely, the search for a gay athlete is a search to overturn the equally pernicious stereotypes of gay men, who have historically been painted as being something less than masculine. But, to change minds, it’s going to take an openly gay superstar, not a marginal player like Jason Collins.
So, I’m not worried that Jason Collins may never again don an NBA uniform. He’s done us all a service. He started a conversation that needed to be had. And even as we wait for the next player to come out, we can rest assured he will be embraced, not based on whom he sleeps with, but whether he’s able to put the ball in the basket and, when that player does come out and the player after him, we may get to a point we should all hope to reach, the point at which no one cares that an athlete declares he’s gay, because it isn’t news anymore.