There’s a lot to like about how Jason Collins came out of the closet. Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, waited until the season was over and his contract with the Washington Wizards had run out, keeping his announcement from being a distraction from the games or a problem for team management. He didn’t wait until some scandal sheet was about to out him; he did it on his own schedule, in his own words, in a byline piece in Sports Illustrated, with a clean, clear, lead: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
I like that Collins has Boston connections. He played for the Celtics this year before being traded to the Wizards last winter, though he didn’t get much playing time and nobody noticed. His roommate at Stanford was Rep. Joe Kennedy III, and he says he had a revelation when Joe told him he’d marched in Boston’s Gay Pride parade: “Hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator.”
But I can also say this without cynicism: Stanford doesn’t graduate dummies and Jason Collins just made a very smart career move. He was a role player off the bench; now he’s a star. Some team will surely sign him as a free agent, despite his age and less than spectacular stats. He’ll get standing ovations wherever he goes next season, especially on the road. Nike has been passing the word for months that it has an endorsement deal waiting for the first pro athlete who comes out.
Collins’ announcement has drawn praise from the president and all kinds of lesser politicians, and a very gracious statement from his friend Joe. NBA stars past and present, team and league executives have all tweeted their encouragement. Anyone who even hints disapproval has been quickly shouted down. His timing has been perfect. He’ll be marching beside Joe K in Boston’s Gay Pride parade in June. He’s already been invited to throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game at Fenway.
I saw “42″ the other day and recommend it; a little sentimental, like all baseball movies, but great performances. Everyone wants to cheer the new Jackie Robinson, but it’s really not the same. Baseball led the way with racial desegregation, while American professional sports (male ones, at least, as Martina Navrotalova is politely reminding us) are late arrivals to the gay rights party. But better late than never. And for Jason Collins, it’s all good.